Northern Victorian irrigators are expressing increasing concern the troubled Connections project will run out of money before it’s fully finished.
From the Loddon Valley and along the Murray River from Murrabit to Tongala, irrigators spoke to Fairfax Media about their frustration with the project and said greater flexibility should have been built into the budget.
Koyuga Irrigators’ Group chairman Stephen Snelson said money was “squandered” during the roll out of Connections.
“(Project director) Frank Fisseler has to do with $550 million, what the others did with $1.5 billion - that’s the difference,” Mr Snelson said.
Fellow Koyuga group member Murray Glass said every government project had built-in budget flexibility.
“Why can’t we argue for money for the upgrade?,” Mr Glass said.
Torrumbarry Water Services Committee member and Murrabit dairy farmer, Andrew Leahy, said it was disappointing no money from the sale of the Port of Melbourne (PoM) lease had been set aside for irrigation projects in the north.
“Why didn’t we get some of that; where does all our export product go, from this district?” Mr Leahy said.
“The railway (the Murray Basin project) is for the wheat blokes, but we didn’t get anything for irrigation up here – that’s a huge loss, we should have got money out of that.”
Mr Leahy said he believed another $300 to $400 million would be needed to finish the project properly.
Durham Ox mixed farmer Chris Harrison said governments committed to the full cost of funding in many other areas of infrastructure.
“Whether it be a road network, or Myki cards, the government commits to funding the full cost – that hasn’t occurred here,” Mr Harrison said.
He doubted the water savings claimed under the project would be realised.
“When this project started it was get rid of all the old leaky channels, at no cost to the irrigators – clearly it hasn’t turned out that way.
“In an effort to complete the project we are seeing a considerable transfer of costs to the irrigators, which most people would be unaware of.”
Echuca West cropper Glenn Murrells, who has a 130-hectare irrigated hay and grain property, said problems began long before Connections, with the Northern Victorian Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP). The NVIRP was set up in December 2007.
It was a statutory body, established to plan, deliver and implement the food bowl project.
Mr Murrells said the NVIRP was more of a replacement program, than one of rationalisation and upgrading the system.
“We had four small Dethridge wheels replaced with 375mm pipe outlets, when they could have been easily rationalised into two larger Magflow outlets, with minimal effort,” Mr Murrells said.
“This all happened before we purchased this property - now we have to try and convince the local GMW district office to remove the meters that are surplus and replace them with what should have been put in there in the first place.
"The only problem is they want the irrigator to foot a $35,000 plus bill, per outlet if they’re not deemed to be salvageable.”
He said it was unfair for irrigators to have to pay for the incompetence of NVIRP.
“Lack of consultation and explanation in the early stages was a major contributing factor to this,” he said.
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