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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Meander Dam gets go-ahead

The Mercury: Meander Dam gets go-ahead [17nov05]

WORK will begin next week on the controversial Meander Dam, although it is still not clear who will own and operate the dam and its irrigation scheme.

Yesterday, Primary Industries Minister Steve Kons announced that engineering and construction company McConnell Dowell would start building the $35 million dam, near Deloraine in northern Tasmania, under an interim agreement with the State Government.

If construction starts by December, the dam will be finished by late 2007 -- in time to supply irrigation water to potato, poppy and dairy farmers in the Meander valley the next summer.

Mr Kons said it was vital that work began immediately, to avoid an extra $5 million increase in the the capital cost. It is understood the $35 million quote by McConnell Dowell is a fixed-price contract that depends on work starting next month.

Farmers and landholders along the Meander River, from Meander through to Westbury, will get letters from McConnell Dowell next week telling them about the project.

In the first few months, surveying and hydrology work will be done. Construction of the high dam wall across the Meander River gorge is likely to be done mainly during the dry summer months of 2006-07.

Mr Kons confirmed that Tasmanian Water Solutions, the consortium contracted to work out how the dam would be privately financed and built, had pulled out.

The State Government paid TWS $750,000 in September as the first part of its initial $7 million public contribution to the private scheme.

This money was spent on design work, a quoll management plan, building two access roads and strengthening bridges to the 380ha dam site during September and October.

Mr Kons said he was investigating how best to finance the dam, which would provide 24,000 megalitres of irrigation water, drinking water for Deloraine and Westbury, and power for 4000-5000 homes each year. The Government claims the dam will create 170 jobs in the region and add $29 million to the economy.

Financing options include the Government turning it into a standard public civil works project and funding most of the $35 million itself, helped by $2 million from Hydro Tasmania and $2.6 million from the Federal Government.

However, its preference remains building the dam as a joint public-private project, with local farmers continuing to contribute about $7 million, agribusiness investor Roberts $2 million, and the State Government, Hydro and Commonwealth $26 million.

Mr Kons again acknowledged the strong support of farmer-investors who had committed to "buy" part of the dam from Tasmanian Water Solutions.

"We appreciate the significant support shown by the farmer-investors for the dam, and such support is crucial in the Government's consideration of the project," Mr Kons said.


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