ENGINEERS on the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project have reassured no route has been decided for high-voltage powerlines to stretch from near Ararat to Melbourne's outer west.
The first of at least six online community consultation sessions still left many residents along the interest corridor in the dark about the project, seemingly shut out from the conference forum and unable to tune in on Saturday morning.
More than 300 questions were sent in for a panel of three project leaders, who were guided to address general themes for concern for the 100 people who could access the meeting. Moderator Chris Robinson said all questions would be replied to individually, which was little compensation for residents The Courier spoke to afterwards who were frustrated at being unable to tap in for the conversation.
Project director Francisco Vizcaino said the team was open to community suggestions for transmission routes within the designated Ausnet Services area of interest with a preferred route unlikely to take shape until mid next year.
SEE AN APPROXIMATE MAP FOR THE AREA OF INTEREST BELOW
Mr Vizcaino also confirmed, in response to a direct question, no land had been purchased for the project north of the Newlyn township.
Residents have also been concerned about the "straight line" in letter distribution for community consultation, according to Mr Robinson.
Project development manager Ashley Clifton said consultations were still progressively being rolled out from Bulgana and moving eastwards to landowners who the project team had "first identified for further information".
Mr Clifton said while there was no planned route for infrastructure, the early proposal was to run alongside the existing Ballarat-Horsham transmission line from Bulgana to Waubra. There would be a new terminal station north of Ballarat but the transmission could run north or south of Creswick, then north or south of Bacchus Marsh and Moorabool.
Moorabool and Central Highlands Power Alliance steering committee member Nick Shady said many people in affected communities still felt they had no real say in the proposed route, despite declarations for flexibility and consultation, due to limited realistic options on the ground for the transmission line.
"The health impacts on residents are great...there are many who feel helpless and hopeless. That's the human side of it," Mr Shady said. "We could see none of the questions that people were asking....It felt very business as usual from company."
Mr Shady said answers to queries of compensation, compulsory acquisition and health impacts from proximity felt at times contradictory.
Engineers would not be drawn much on details of compulsory acquisition or compensation with Mr Vizcaino suggesting a future online forum with an expert on such topics to explore this further. He did say negotiation would be a priority with landowners.
Mr Vizcaino made clear the project would be overhead powerlines, citing: standard industry practice due to such high voltage; lesser impact to the environment, Aboriginal cultural sites and farm use; and, cost to install and maintain.
Tower height will vary from 60 to 70 metres for 22kV lines, with an average base of 16m by16m, and 70 to 80 metres for 500kV lines, with an average base of 20m by 20m. The span between towers will be about 400 metres. Topography will be considered.
Mr Clifton suggested the transmission line along the Hamilton Highway running from Cressy to Mortlake as a comparison.
More than 1000 community responses with important sites, such as walking trails or historic areas, have been marked in an Ausnet Services interactive map. The project's environmental planning lead Tara Horsnell encouraged people to keep making clear areas of significance with local knowledge.
A second online community consultation session will be on Tuesday, 6-8pm. Questions can be submitted via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN OTHER NEWS
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.