What was once described as the dress circle of Murwillumbah is now home for NBN’s latest tower in the Tweed Shire.
Picturesque Hammond Drive follows the top of a ridge. Leafy overhangs shade the road. Young children and retired couples talk to each other. The planting of thousands of koala trees is a major topic for the residents of Clothiers Creek. All was quiet until modern day impositions demanded their full attention.
As of March 20 a new NBN 30-meter monopole fixed-wireless tower has emerged from the forested range.
Di Morrison and Ron Krieger had retired to their dream home on Hammond Drive. With the magnificent views of Mt Warning and its caldera as a constant backdrop their days centered on gardening and surfing. That was until the arrival of the phone tower. They share a common fence line and, as of now, they live directly under a phone tower.
‘I feel absolutely devastated and powerless,’ said Ms Morrison
‘As a planner with more 35 years experience, including as a university lecturer, I know this development located so close to homes with potentially major health and environmental impacts and also visual concerns would never be permitted by the courts.
‘Infrastructure planning needs proper consideration of planning issues and residents have a right to have their views properly and transparently assessed. Any suggestion that there was real consultation is a blatant lie.
‘We have had no real interest or support from our elected representatives at local, state or federal level. The Tweed Shire Council has been particularly irresponsible and unprofessional in its dealing with community,’ she said.
Who is legally responsible?
The nationwide NBN rollout has all been in the name of giving Australians access to a very fast broadband. Australia needs to take its place on the global stage was the mantra. In a very short time technology and its infrastructure have become the new guru and all before it must bow. Fiber optic cables or towers are the magical connectors. Hammond Drive has both!
What NBN Co does not promote is the 20-30 year financial agreements with the landholders and the split and undefined insurance/legal responsibilities carried by the owner.
In the case of Hammond Drive, the landholder is James Kelly and family. Mr Kelly must have public liability insurance for $10 million for any one occurrence. This will cost him around half of his annual NBN income.
Twelve of the Hammond Drive residents have had blood tests recorded with the aim of showing any changes caused by the towers electric magnetic emissions. What is not clear is would any future health insurance claims be made to NBN Co or would it land on the landowner’s policy?
Ms Morrison used her experience as a town planner to unravel the tower placement and development process. Immediately it became clear a development application was not required and as a result there would be no community consultation.
Out of her own pocket Ms Morrison obtained legal advice from the most senior environment and local government barrister in NSW, Mr Peter McEwen, SC.
His advice was the current construction of an NBN tower on Hammond Drive did not have a valid approval, making it illegal. Ms Morrison immediately advised the community, the landholder and the council: all to no avail.
‘Is this the tip of the iceberg and how many other communities have been hoodwinked into believing their tower was a complying development with no DA required?’ she asked.
Impact on microbats
Ron Krieger reached into his pocket and engaged principal ecologist Adam Greenhalgh from Diverse Ecology. The property and surrounds were surveyed for wildlife. This report concluded the area supports the foraging habitat for least one threatened microbat species. The Little Bentwing Bat.
For this little microbat the report concluded – ‘From the studies completed thus far the impacts of microwaves reduces insect activity thus reducing the foraging opportunities for microbats. Although not entirely understood studies completed by Sienkiewicz ZJ (1998) on the biological effects of electromagnetic fields have found that exposure to pulsed microwaves generally attributed to the thermoelastic expansion of brain tissue following the small but rapid increase in temperature due to the absorption of the incident energy. This generates a sound wave in the head that subsequently stimulates the cochlea. Repeated or prolonged exposure to these auditory effects is considered stressful’.
If the usual development process had have been implemented this information would have be realized and it would have come under the protection of the Office of Environment and Heritage, not planning.
Di Morrison and Ron Krieger did all they could to make sense of what was being forced on them and their community. As Friday unfolded the police and the tower did arrive. The residents of Hammond Drive watched in horror as heavy lorries blocked the road and their lives moved into the unknown.
As the tower is commissioned, any number of telcos and emergency services can add their equipment. There is no way residents can control just how much will be attached or the level of emitting frequencies. If they dare to mention being EMF affected eyes will role and they will be denigrated to the silly basket. The question for the Hammond Drive residents is what will the tower cost their sanity and the future health of the children?
It was out of pure desperation 67 year old Di Morrison chained herself to the side of a flat tray truck carrying the tower’s monopole. For a few moments she delayed the installation of her worst nightmare.
‘I was totally overwhelmed by the scale of the finished industrial product in our little narrow street in a rural landscape zone’ said Di Morrison.
‘And of course it will look far worse with 2.5metre high chain security fence, a metal plant and equipment box and a concrete boxed culvert and crossover.
Lillian Rock next?
To the other side of the caldera is Lillian Rock. Located on the fringe of both the Kyogle and Tweed Shires NBN have been unsuccessful in finding a landholder to house a tower for over a year.
James Creagh is a spokesperson from the Lillian Rock – No NBN tower group. After seeing the Clothiers Creek tower installation process he said ‘We have been fortunate all 30 residents approached by NBN/Visionstream in the Lillian Rock/Barkers Vale community have all said a clear No to the towers.
‘To me it says that our community is concerned about the long-term impact the towers will have. Visionstream offers community consultation after they have secured a site with a property owner. That is not community consultation but rather a promotion of what they are planning and it gives no opportunity for a small community to be involved in the placement or ask for safer internet access like their city brothers and sisters. This technology is a cheap and unsafe imposition on rural people,’ he said.
As infrastructure wins over people and history to date there has not been any real EMR debate by government, health authorities or scientists.
The argument – ‘What are you complaining about. You use a mobile phone’ – is thin and lacks any level of research. Just a few minutes’ use of the wonder technology shows there are possible serious side effects to electromagnetic radiation and we’re all living in it. Humans and the wildlife are the canaries.
Di Morrison and Ron Krieger are reeling from the impact of their shattered dreams. The existence of the tower is forcing them to reevaluate their future. But the wider community has benefited from their challenge of authority and much has been learnt about the enforcement process used by NBN Co and councils.