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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

‘Donga village’ for Bentley approved

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The Bungabee Road entrance to Metgasco's E101 test drilling site at Bentley. Photo Marie Cameron
The Bentley protectors’ primitive campsite in its early stages. Metgasco’s ‘man camp’ will not look like this. Photo Marie Cameron

Temporary onsite accommodation for Bentley gasfield workers, which will include a gym, dining room and bar, has been approved by Richmond Valley Council (RVC).

As expected, plans for Metgasco’s so called ‘man camp’ were passed by RVC’s planning committee yesterday but that didn’t stop controversy erupting at last night’s council meeting when an opponent of the ‘donga village’ was stopped part-way through her address.

And Gasfield Free Northern Rivers have accused RVC general manager John Walker of making ‘political attacks’ on the campers at the group’s primitive campsite at Bentley over claims they had breached conditions of their permit.

Echonetdaily reader Jenny Leunig attended last night’s Richmond Valley Council meeting and said that an objector had her public access time cut.

‘Liz Stops had a five-minute session to discuss the man camp arrangements, but Ernie Bennett and John Walker stopped her before she could finish,’ Ms Leunig said.

‘They said her time was up, which she argued about, but they wouldn’t let her complete her talk,’ she added.

Ms Leunig said she didn’t think it was right that RVC ‘had already approved the man site during the day, before it was discussed at the meeting and the public could have their say.’

She earlier told Echonetdaily that Council’s GM John Walker changed his position on the nature of the Metgasco campsite mid-way through the application process.

The company came up with the idea several weeks ago to prevent workers having to face picketers on the way to work every morning.

‘When he was interviewed on ABC radio last week [Mr Walker] stated the man camp would have exactly the same conditions as the protectors’ camp. It would be classed as a primitive camp, would not have a kitchen or showers,’ Ms Leunig said.

‘The interviewer asked him to repeat these conditions which he did. The interviewer asked how the workers would get their meals. Mr Walker replied “the same way the protectors do”. The interviewer suggested that they would have to go and get it or have it brought in. Mr Walker said “yes”.’

Mr Walker said this morning that people parking on the side of the road adjacent to the test well site at Bentley would soon be likely to cop a fine of more than $200.

‘There will be No Stopping signs erected at that location so if the protesters go there and park when the signs are up they’ll be paying a $236 fine. Now I don’t want them to get fined either but one way or another there won’t be cars on that part of the road,’ he told ABC radio.

Regarding the approval, Mr Walker said there would be no irrigation of sewerage onsite, as was requested by Metgasco. Effluent will instead be trucked out and disposed of offsite.

Attacks ‘politically motivated’

Meanwhile, Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesperson Aidan Ricketts has rejected claims Mr Walker made yesterday that the Bentley protector’s camp is in breach of its approval conditions.

‘The camp has complied strictly with all of the conditions of the approval and represents a mature response by all parties to protecting public safety, and should not be undermined, ’  Mr Ricketts said

‘The recent attacks on the camp make a mockery of the law and would appear to be politically motivated,’ he added

Mr Ricketts called on Mr Walker to ‘respect the spirit of the accord that has brought the camp into being and provided a safe way for the public to attend the site.’

‘Mr Walker has suggested that the camp should be responsible for policing parking along the Lismore /Kyogle road as well as complying with its own approval conditions but this is an absurd proposition. The people maintaining the campsite have been careful to make sure that no cars park on the adjacent roadside and this has been strictly adhered to, but to suggest that they have powers or the responsibility to police the rest of the road is a nonsense that is not supported by the relevant law,’ Mr Ricketts said.

‘Mr Walker and Metgasco may be troubled by the occasional presence of cars at the gates to Metgascos’s proposed industrial mining operation, but that is well away from the camp site. You would not revoke a shopping centre’s approval because some customers parked in a no standing site.’

‘It’s a simple matter of law, council officers and police are empowered to police parking on the Lismore Kyogle road, not the people who are camping lawfully at the Bentley protectors camp,‘ he said.

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  1. Remember the names John Walker and Ernie Bennett , being those of co-operative agents assisting the implementation of a “fracking site”. As more incidents of negligence and accidents on fracking sites emerge accountability will be a priority. … One should expect no less than that where security of water is concerned. If damage is done there must be attribution of blame and compensation redeemed. Sadly it is clear, in the closing down of Ms.Stops, that Council ( an extension of State GovCo ) is not acting in the interests of landholders and other residents of the area. That is on the record. As for the Metgasco “camp” it would seem that the approval process has left a lot to be desired in the areas of accountability and transparency. Stake holders in that process should be aware that not only “locals” are following their activities. “Fracking” is a blight on the greater world now. People from a lot of countries are now looking at what is happening here. I notice that drug consumption is to be permitted on the Company site. That section of the approval warrants full contempt. Alcohol is Australia’s number 1 “killer” drug. Allowing alcohol on an industrial site is folly to begin with. Allowing it on a site that is the subject of an 85% community opposition is provocative. Again, that reflects on Messrs. Bennett and Walker. The “charge sheet” is expanding.

    As for expecting the landholders and their supporters to “police” parking adjacent to the Metgasco site, don’t be sill.y. It would appear that Messrs. Bennett and Walker don’t know much about the “law of the land”. If so why are they in their current positions of trust.

    I had the pleasure of visiting the site this last “March in March” Sunday. Whilst it is a dire circumstance that has initiated the action it was great to see the locals respond with such creativity and passion. It was clear from the people that I met that participation in the project has been extremely rewarding and uplifting. And the word that I heard used the most was “community”. People who feel detached and alone who live in the area should head on down and connect. It’s in everyone’s interest.

  2. went out to camp site today for the first time .the site was well organized and no cars were parked on the side of the road.If anyone can spare some time it might be a good time to pay them a visit as seems like things will heat up very soon.The more support the better Thanks Brian Mc Donald


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