The state’s environmental watchdog has fined Snowy Hydro for polluting waterways in Kosciuszko National Park, prompting a warning from new Environment Minister Penny Sharpe that she expects greater care to be taken in sensitive conservation areas.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has also cautioned that there must be “robust controls” to protect the environment or industry operators “face serious regulatory action”.
Snowy Hydro Limited and its contractor WeBuild were last week each issued with $15,000 penalty notices following two alleged pollution incidents in Kosciuszko National Park.
The EPA alleges that “inadequate sediment and erosion controls were established despite warnings by officers” which saw a sediment plume stretch for more than two kilometres down Yarrangobilly River, while Nungar Creek was hit with sediment-laden water from roadworks at Tantangara.
The watchdog’s executive director of regulatory operations Carmen Dwyer said all EPA licensed operators were expected to be environmentally responsible, especially in delicate ecosystems.
“The environment around these local waterways in the Kosciuszko National Park contains highly specialised plants, animals and microorganisms and is home to a number of endangered species like the smoky mouse and the Alpine Tree Frog,” Dwyer said.
“Actions like this can severely impact the environment not just now but for years to come, and can be detrimental to many species.
“These incidents simply should not have occurred. Every industry has a role to play in reducing their impact, but your role is even more critical when you’re based in one of our state’s most pristine environments.”
Sharpe said the Kosciuszko waterways were some of the cleanest and most fragile waterways in Australia and needed to be preserved.
“Snowy 2.0 has a big role in the transition to renewable energy and keeping the lights on in NSW, but it is being built in a highly sensitive conservation area,” Sharpe said.
“National parks have the highest level of environmental protection of any land type. Great care needs to be taken to minimise any impacts. In this case, that hasn’t occurred, and it’s unacceptable.
“The EPA is doing its important job of ensuring that our environment is protected and that the rules and requirements for activities in areas like Kosciuszko National Park are followed. This is important work that as minister I support.”
Snowy Hydro 2.0 has been plagued by ongoing delays, cost blowouts and the resignation of its chief executive, Paul Broad, who last year quit after a series of disagreements with Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen.
Broad went on to be a special adviser on energy in the office of then-premier Dominic Perrottet, in a move that outraged former energy minister Matt Kean, who was blindsided by the appointment.
The $5.1 billion pumped hydro scheme may not be ready to generate power until as late as 2028, according to reports on the latest delays to the project.
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