Margaret Howes, Empire Vale
I would like to respond to the many articles in the newspapers about the invasion of coal-seam gas exploration in Richmond Valley Council’s public roads reserves and airport.
As I was driving out of the Casino CBD at 11am on Saturday 3 November, I was confronted by a convoy of half a dozen white survey trucks and a dozen white Landcruiser utes emblazoned with the Terrex Seismic logo and all loaded to the hilt with equipment. Blue and red lights on the top of police cars were flashing at the head of the convoy, at roundabouts where other traffic was held up by police and at the rear. I could have been forgiven for thinking I was in a war zone in Afghanistan. The gas-survey vehicles were frightening to some and overbearing to others. Many protesters in attendance followed the convoy. Others maintained their guard at strategic locations.
I had previously taken a drive around Casino and noted literally hundreds of protesters spread out around town – the Primex site, the gas company offices and the airport were all being covered by anti-CSG people with kids and dogs and all from very respectable walks of life. No ferals sighted, despite what the politicians claim. Just concerned citizens.
It had been announced that the seismic survey would take place between Spring Grove Road and the Casino Airport, which had been closed to all aviation users between 11am and 3pm. This was to enable survey trucks to drive over the runway and take seismic readings. Members of the aero club, private hangar-keepers and airport businesses were unable to use the airport facilities and had to shut down for the day.
The convoy raced down the Summerland Way and entered a paddock. Other vehicles raced down Ellangowan Road and entered Hockey Lane. Suddenly it was all on. Vehicles and survey equipment spread out on a line to the east and the operation commenced. I saw marked yellow and white highway patrol cars, a dark red unmarked highway patrol car, a white paddy wagon and an assortment of other marked and unmarked police vehicles. At least half a dozen police in navy blue combat fatigues were in attendance just in case the protesters gave any trouble.
It became blatantly apparent that closing the airport was merely a decoy thrown in by Richmond Valley Council. After all, the guard has changed at the council and it is now very, very PRO coal-seam gas. This is the beginning of turning Casino into a town like Roma or Chinchilla where the average family no longer has a place. Coal-seam gas development is going to take over come hell or high water. Our public servants are going to ensure money is made out of it and the Gasfree Roads Scrolls certainly aren’t being stored in the general manager’s or mayor’s office.
I took a drive along Fardons Lane, which runs between Ellangowan Road and the Greenridge–Tatham Road. On the grass verge I noticed a series of blue stripes and every so often a white survey peg with a distance marked on it. Very soon the traffic controllers arrived and blocked the gravel lanes. Everyone was excluded from the public road reserves and the survey route by an abundance of red and white cones and lollypop men.
I went to Casino Police Station and spoke with the inspector, who was a very friendly chap. He told me Richmond Valley Council had issued an order enabling the seismic survey work and the roads were being closed under OH&S regulations as they had become a workplace. I asked who was paying for the police guard. The inspector looked at me quizzically. Of course, the taxpayers are. Yes, you and I are subsidising the gas company’s operations. In other countries police protection is a paid business, but not here in Australia. The miners get it cost free.
I spoke with a farmer near the airport and asked him if he had entered an agreement with the gas company to have wells on his land. He told me he had, then spoke of the subdivision he was wanting to get approved by Council. His attitude seemed to be ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’.
It made me wonder if the council has ever read the Local Government Act 1993 – Section 8, which says:
• to properly manage, develop, protect, restore, enhance and conserve the environment of the area for which it is responsible, in a manner that is consistent with and promotes the principles of ecologically sustainable development
• to have regard to the long-term and cumulative effects of its decisions.