Compensation call for Mackay 'environmental disaster'
THE peak body representing Australia's sugarcane growers has called on Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham to help secure compensation for Mackay growers locked in a battle with SunWater over an "environmental disaster" on their property.
Mark and Diana Barfield have been pleading for compensation over the destruction of their farmland allegedly caused by salinity from excessive leaking and pressure on the water table by Kinchant Dam near North Eton, Mackay.
State-owned SunWater manages the dam.
Canegrowers chief executive Kerry Latter has released images showing the extent of damage to the property, with the Barfields reporting ongoing and increasing losses in cane production in the 20 hectares of paddocks.
Mark Barfield said the situation, which had left him almost financially ruined, had also taken a toll mentally and physically.
"It depresses you that much, every day I think about it," Mr Barfield said.
The "disheartening" battle with SunWater has left him $150,000 out of pocket and with five years of lost production.
"I've been working on farms for 40 years and it just makes you want to chuck it all in," Mr Barfield said.
"The worst thing about it is the valuation of the farm - no one would buy it now."
Mr Latter said neighbouring bushland on the state-owned Kinchant Dam land had also been affected.
He said SunWater was building large drainage works on its own land near the property to address the "rising ground water issues".
"SunWater has neither admitted to the growers that it is to blame nor offered to pay compensation for the significant devaluation in the cane farm and the increasing losses in cane production year on year on the paddocks concerned," Mr Latter said.
"The drone footage shows that much of the area now looks like a salt pan where nothing can grow."
He said in 2017-18 the growers invested their own funds to engage independent experts, Australasian Groundwater and Environmental Consultants, to provide a major report on the likely cause of the salt intrusion and possible remedial measures.
"In summary, the report concluded that the Kinchant Dam was the source and the cause of the loss and damage being suffered by the growers who have farmed in the area since before the dam was built," Mr Latter said.
"(SunWater) have not agreed to pay compensation for the farm's devaluation and loss of production.
"But before the new drainage works on SunWater's land were sealed, witnesses - including myself, Shadow Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Dale Last, the growers and their legal representative, observed it was filling up with saline water - proving the Barfields' concerns are valid and the dam, constructed in the 1970s, is causing rising salinity."
The Daily Mercury reached out to SunWater for comment but it declined to respond.
In a statement, Dr Lynham said he was advised that SunWater had actively engaged with the Barfields to resolve the issue but an agreed position has not been reached.
"I am unable to provide any further comment on this matter as it pertains to a potential legal dispute between the Barfields and SunWater," he said.
Shadow Natural Resources Minister Dale Last has demanded immediate action be taken to "resolve this 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," Mr Last said.