Lifesaving safety measures planned for one of the highest fire risk areas in Victoria will no longer be completed as planned due to a project cost blowout.
A key recommendation of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was that powerlines be run underground in high fire risk areas and locally, Spring Hill was one of the first areas nominated.
Powercor has been installing underground powerlines in this area throughout 2018 as part of the state government funded Powerline Bushfire Safety Program.
The project was due for completion at the end of March but a pocket of residents located closest to the Wombat State Forest – in the vicinity of O’Learys Lane, the southern end of Coliban Road, Lakers Road and Landers Road – have now been told the works in their area will no longer be completed.
A Powercor spokesperson said that as the project progressed Powercor encountered an increased volume of underground rock that was not anticipated and had increased the cost of the works.
“The difficulties experienced have been advised to the Victorian Government regulators and the decision to not proceed further was supported,” the spokesperson said.
But residents don’t accept that it’s simply a case of “too hard and too cost prohibitive”.
“These areas are more densely vegetated and at higher risk of vegetation falling on, or impacting on, overhead powerlines resulting in a bushfire,” local resident Christine Arnold said.
“It is incomprehensible to me that cost savings is being put above people’s safety.
“Until recently I had naively assumed that the VBRC recommendations were being implemented in good faith, that everyone was on the same page about wanting to ensure that we never let another Black Saturday happen.”
The Victorian Government and Powercor have indicated they are considering new technologies and further funding allocations for additional powerline replacement projects, but it’s little comfort to these residents as the next phase of the project rolls out elsewhere.
“It’s a case of ‘tough we’ve run out of budget’ and ‘tough there’s a lot of rock’, but hey, what’s budget when it comes to human lives in the most vulnerable areas in our state?” resident Phil Thomas said.
An ominous precursor
Just two weeks before the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, a tree fell on a powerline on the outskirts of Woodend igniting a fire that threatened the township.
In hot and ferociously windy conditions, more than 300 CFA personnel in 60 trucks, along with a large fleet of
DSE vehicles and staff, water-dropping helicopters and other aircraft, battled the blaze to protect the town.
It was an ominous precursor to the disaster Victoria was soon to face, with overhead powerlines igniting the blaze at Kilmore East on the day of the state’s worst bushfire tragedy.
The Kilmore East-Kinglake class action settled for $495 million in late 2014 – one of Australia’s biggest class actions.