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05 May 2021
By DEAN LAWSON
The developer of a proposed waste-water farm at Quantong has revealed the project is part of a broader agricultural vision for the site that includes establishing a large-scale native cut-flower operation.
Water Sustainability Farm director and agricultural entrepreneur Peter Blair said evaporation dams were part of a multi-use plan that represented a value-adding expansion to farm-business operations.
He said he had been exploring a multi-staged cut-flower project for the site for about three years and plans were to run operations in conjunction with the water-management project.
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“The waste-water farm is primarily designed for evaporation, but the idea is to incorporate it with other agricultural pursuits such as growing seaweed as a high-value cattle supplement,” he said.
Mr Blair revealed plans for the venture while outlining details regarding a Water Sustainability Farm proposal that involves the development of four evaporation basins and a drying pad at the Quantong site. The basin and pad’s primary role would be to provide Australian Plant Proteins somewhere to truck waste water and compost from its production site at Horsham Enterprise Estate.
The move has attracted concern from some Quantong residents worried about what the site might represent in relation to the environment, property values, lifestyle and the future of farm and tourism business opportunities.
But Mr Blair, who joined Australian Plant Proteins director Phil McFarlane presenting the waste-water farm concept at an online community information session last week, said maintaining the environmental and social integrity of the site were a priority.
“I’m not one to denigrate value of the area – on the contrary. I want to see that area grow and prosper,” he said.
“Constantly monitoring conditions is going to be at the forefront of what we do, which includes beautifying the area and upgrading the whole block.
“We have draft plans in for the cut-flower operation and hope to start that pretty soon. We certainly don’t want to be affecting anything from an environmental perspective. And hopefully with what we’re doing will come a few more jobs.”
Mr Blair and Mr McFarlane are confident they have solutions to appease some of the major concerns aired at the community information session.
Mr McFarlane said Quantong residents had raised valid issues, which had triggered a re-examination of operational plans.
He said people had highlighted truck traffic and road access as a major concern, which he believed could be easily resolved, and an exploration was now underway to find an alternative disposal plan for dewatered sludge compost.
“I understood some of the concerns. I too would have concerns if odour was an issue. But we believe there will be no odour. We’re very confident we have covered all the bases in relation to environmental and social needs for this project to proceed,” he said.
Mr McFarlane stressed that Australian Plant Proteins had to pursue independent water treatment and recycling for the multi-million-dollar venture to succeed and would follow regulatory direction.
“We put in our original application with the EPA in February and expect to know more by the end of next month,” he said.
Wimmera catchment leaders, meanwhile, are confident they can help find a ‘workable solution’ for the efficient disposal of the saline waste water.
Wimmera Catchment Management Authority chief executive David Brennan said his organisation needed to further assess project details before providing direction and-or making any recommendations.
“The million-dollar question is whether Quantong or somewhere else provides the most appropriate site for a water-treatment dam of this type,” he said.
Mr Brennan said as a statutory referral body, Wimmera CMA had requested further information from Environment Protection Authority about the design, construction and management of the facility.
“What we want to ensure is that there is not going to be any detrimental effects of adjoining vegetation and the nearby Wimmera River and how this water might interact with a potential flood,” he said.
“It is all about ensuring everything happens in a sustainable, considered manner.
“One of the reasons the authority exists is to ensure economic development can occur with a balance that considers both environmental and social impact.
“I’m sure we can work towards an ultimate solution, but need more information to be confident.”
Horsham mayor Robyn Gulline said Horsham Rural City Council needed to wait until the completion of all regulatory assessments before taking any position.
“The council’s job is to balance the needs of both residents and business and investors – not just in this case, but in many things we do. There are often contrary and conflicting points of view where the interests of different groups collide,” she said.
“It’s about finding a balance where everyone compromises a little bit to get the best outcomes for all concerned. We don’t want a situation where if something gets all too hard investors pack up and go elsewhere.
“Investment is so important to the future prospects of our community, but we also don’t want it to be detrimental. Again, it’s all about balance.”
The entire May 5, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!