For the full VCAT finding go to bordermail.com.au
A STATE appeal tribunal has heard a consultant’s report prepared for the Victorian Water Minister to decide on Bright’s $14.5 million new dam was a rush job, almost impossible to read and never followed up with the author.
Department of Sustainability and Environment officials said the costings were “horrible” and it was “difficult to tell from this conclusion whether due consideration was given to community concerns”.
But the rest of the “draft” will remain a secret after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled the report was working papers and releasing them was not in the public interest.
VCAT handed down its decision on Friday, almost three months after the hearing.
The independent report has become a sticking point in the Ovens Valley stink about whether the dam should be at North East Water’s preferred site at Freeburgh on the outskirts of Bright or as the Bright Water Project Committee preferred, 25 kilometres up the valley at Harrietville.
Freedom of information requests to release the report from the Department of Sustainability and Environment were rejected initially and again on appeal.
Project committee spokesman Kevin Black, who led the appeal yesterday, said his group was bitterly disappointed.
“The VCAT member found the consultant, Roger Wrigley, faced an unrealistic deadline on the report,” he said.
“He submitted a final draft by the due date but DSE failed to convene a meeting to discuss it and never asked for a final version, so the report remained a draft.
“He found no fault with or criticism of Mr Wrigley but, regardless of the recommendations or content of the report, refused to release it because it was still only a draft.”
Mr Black said the VCAT decision relied on a legal precedent as to whether the public interest “required” release of the draft report.
“It found that because the report was a draft, release would ‘prove to be of very limited use and might cause confusion and mischief’,” he said.
“This is a classic ‘catch-22’ — DSE did not allow enough time for a proper report to be prepared, failed to take any action to have the draft completed and then refused to release it because it was only a draft.”
Mr Black said the group was still examining further legal action.
Initially, North East Water planned to build a 320 megalitre off-river storage at Freeburgh.
It will now be built to hold 520 megalitres, replacing the present supply that is taken off the Ovens River.
Construction is expected to start in May.