Monday, July 17, 2006

Dam or Damn the Money


Dams are never far from the news in Tassie. For a state which relies so much on hydro-electric power, you'd think a sensible, consistent policy would mean everyone knew exactly where they stood, dam-wise. A quick history of Tassie's dam/damn worries:

The 1950's to 70's saw a massive campaign of building a hydro-electric dam on any river, creek, or street gutter that came to the government's attention. The most controversial of these was the Peddar Dam, which was going to provide Tasmania's power needs well into the future. The building of it created a wonderful recreational lake and power generation source, as well as flooding pristine world-heritage standard forests, historically significant aboriginal caves, and providing such a change in the environment that clouds passing overhead began to react by dropping their water where they never previously did. Recently, the government spent half a million dollars on a feasibility study on how to drain and dismantle the dam, on the ground we don't need it any more. We recently installed the BassLink power cable across Bass Strait - Tassie had so much power, we could now sell the extra to the Mainland. Except that since the opening of the BassLink cable, we've been buying power off the Mainland because we don't have enough to meet our demand. This would mean the Peddar-draining plan was scrapped then? No, thats still on the cards, on the grounds that we have more power than we need. Remember, that half million was for a study, not to do the job itself. Here's an idea - give me half a million dollars and I'll drain it - with a teaspoon if necessary, or by drinking it all and emptying my bladder on the other side of the dam wall.

In the mid 70's, the government tried to put a dam up on one of the world's last wilderness rivers, the famous Gordon. Public protest was overwhelming, so the government decided to hold a referendum to let the people decide. When the referendum came around, there were two choices: Will we dam the Gordon (a) below the Franklin, or (b) above the Olga. Many people wrote 'NO DAMS' across the ballot paper in protest. This made the vote informal. So many, in fact, wrote 'NO DAMS' that almost half the vote was informal. When the results were tallied, there weren't enough votes for either of the options to be valid, so all those 'informal' votes which had 'NO DAMS' on them were counted anyway - any sort of mark over either of the vote boxes was a vote for that dam. Anybody who went down to the organised protests was arrested for trespassing on public land.

In the news over the last couple of years is the Meander dam. This colossal waste of taxpayers money isn't for electricity, its to provide irrigation for between 5 and 10 farmers who say they can't continue to be viable without it. If they had to build the dam themselves, they could never hope to pay even a fraction of it off. So we, the taxpayers, pay for it instead. How does this make economic sense? If the benefit it provides will never pay for the cost of its construction, why build it? And does it mean we will be entitled to free meat and milk from these farmers from now on?

And there's more, in fact heaps more. Every dam in Tasmania's history has its story.

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