Legal stoush brewing over salt-scarred canefield

Mackay cane growers seek compensation for saltwater leakage from SunWater dam


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An aerial view of salt-scarring at the property in North Eton, Mackay.

An aerial view of salt-scarring at the property in North Eton, Mackay.

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SunWater is refusing to clean up its own mess, the LNP's Dale Last says.

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A legal stoush is brewing between SunWater and the owners of a Mackay cane farm who say leakage from a government dam has destroyed a chunk of their property.

Peak body Canegrowers Mackay said excessive leakage of salt water from the Kinchant Dam, operated by SunWater, had destroyed almost 20 hectares on the North Eton cane property of Mark and Diana Barfield.

Canegrowers chief executive Kerry Latter said the Barfields should be compensated by the state government for the loss of production as well as reductions in their property's value.

"However, because the growers are in dispute with the state-owned SunWater Ltd as owner and manager of the cause of the salt intrusion - Kinchant Dam near their property - it has been downplayed by both SunWater and the government to date," Mr Latter said.

Consultants concluded the scarring had been caused by issues with the Kinchant Dam

Consultants concluded the scarring had been caused by issues with the Kinchant Dam

A 2018 report by Australasian Groundwater and Environmental Consultants said failure to control groundwater pressures at the dam had resulted in "a rise in groundwater level under the cane property resulting in salt scalds".

The Barfields had observed salt scalds first appearing at their property in 2005, with the damaged area continuing to spread since then.

Salt scalding had resulted in "stressed and stunted cane, salt deposits at the surface, powdery soil and salt-tolerant weeds", the environmental consultants noted.

State Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the possibility of legal action between the Barfields and the government limited his ability to comment on the dispute.

"I am advised that Sunwater has actively engaged with the Barfields to resolve the issue however an agreed position has not been reached," he said.

"I am unable to provide any further comment on this matter as it pertains to a potential legal dispute between the Barfields and Sunwater."

There are calls for the government to compensate affected landholders.

There are calls for the government to compensate affected landholders.

Mr Latter said the Barfields had been unable to resolve the dispute with SunWater.

"The growers have engaged with SunWater about this problem but there has been no satisfactory resolution," he said.

"Our growers continue to suffer production losses and the value of their farm has been severely affected.

"Canegrowers Mackay supports the growers in seeking a satisfactory resolution of this problem - suitable compensation for the devaluation in farm value and lost past and future production."

LNP natural resources spokesman Dale Last wrote to Dr Lynham in June, urging him to intervene on the Barfields behalf.

"It is my belief that a mutually-acceptable outcome to this issue can be negotiated without recourse to legal action and to this end I am seeking your assistance in pursuing this course of action, which would save both parties considerable time and money," he wrote.

Mr Last said SunWater was "refusing to clean up its own mess".

"This is their livelihoods we are talking about here and Sunwater has simply not done enough even though it has been aware of the issue for years," he said.

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