The Burdekin Falls Dam in flood in February 2019. Picture: TRUDY BROWN
The Burdekin Falls Dam in flood in February 2019. Picture: TRUDY BROWN

State is copping a blast for delaying dams

THE Labor State Government has been accused of stalling the development of North Queensland's water resources because its politicians don't like building dams.

State Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham hit back, saying the Coalition Federal Government is announcing water funding "for political reasons" without understanding why the assets should be developed. The stoush comes as Townsville Enterprise awaits a State Government sign-off so it can begin a business case into the Hells Gates Dam proposal on the Upper Burdekin River.

The Federal Government has committed $24 million to the business case, as well as $30 million for an associated Big Rocks Weir at Charters Towers, but the Labor Government must sign-off on the spending because water is a state responsibility.

Charters Towers Regional Council Mayor Liz Schmidt urged the State Government to agree to the work.

"The project guarantees new work for local businesses and our community stands ready for this project to begin," Cr Schmidt said.

"Charters Towers Regional Council is urging for the next phase to commence and hopes the State Government can provide a clear ­direction for when this is likely to happen.

"The construction of Big Rocks Weir is vital for the development and progression of our region."

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the government wanted to progress its water infrastructure commitments to construction as quickly as possible, preferably in partnership with the State Government, so the jobs and investment could start to flow.

"We provided a signed funding schedule for the (Hells Gates) project to the Queensland Government in early July. The full $24 million has been committed to the project and will be provided once Queensland agrees to countersign the funding agreement," Mr McCormack said.

Dr Lynham said his department had reviewed a pre-feasibility assessment of Hells Gates Dam, identifying uncertainties on the demand and affordability of water and that the project did not align with the Burdekin Basin Water Plan.

"Funding of $54 million was announced by the Federal Government pre-election for Hells Gate (and) Big Rocks Weir for political reasons, without any detail or context," Dr Lynham said.

Dr Lynham said the government would continue to "constructively engage" with the Federal Government on the next phase of the proposal.

Katter's Australian Party State MP Robbie Katter said he was aware of the state's reluctance to building dams, if necessary using process to "lock it up".

He said KAP wanted to see more involvement from the Charters Towers council and farmers who had initially proposed the Big Rocks Weir and more of a focus on economic development rather than on the commercial returns of selling water.

Townsville Enterprise CEO Patricia O'Callaghan said they were leading a consortium of 12 local businesses and were waiting on confirmation of an agreement between the federal and state governments that would allow them to proceed.

"There is some frustration around the delay in commencement but we understand that agreements between state and federal governments do require detailed review," Ms O'Callaghan said. "We stand ready to proceed."

It is understood construction of the Big Rocks Weir near Charters Towers - also dependent on agreement by the state - could begin within six months of the start of the business case.