A group of Dungog residents believe the time has come to reconsider Tillegra Dam as an option for securing the Lower Hunter's water supply.
The We Need Tillegra Dam group consists of a 10-person working group that is lobbying for the project, which was spectacularly abandoned by the former Labor government in the lead-up to the 2011 state election.
Group spokesman and Dungog general store owner Michael Dowling said a 'quiet majority' of residents were supportive of the project.
"We believe that Tillegra Dam should be looked at again from a clearer more current perspective when it comes to water," he said.
"Let's have an open discussion. Can Tillegra Dam be part of the overall water security solution for the Hunter Valley?"
After waging a bitter four year battle with environmentalists and community members, former Premier Kristina Keneally declared the government was not proceeding with the $477 million project due to "potential environmental impacts and insufficient justification for the dam".
The fight to build the 450 gigalitre dam cost the government about $100 million.
Successive governments have sold-off the land secured for the project and pursued the Lower Hunter Water Plan as a strategy for securing the region's water supply.
Former Hunter Water managing director, now the state's top water bureaucrat Jim Bentley told the Newcastle Herald that Tillegra Dam was no longer considered an option.
"I think the first thing I must say on that is it's not the government's policy and it is not Hunter Water's policy to reconsider Tillegra Dam. That particular dam is off the table. The work that's being done on land and water planning at the moment will not be considering Tillegra Dam."
"One reason we don't need to consider Tillegra Dam is there are many other options including smaller dams and off river storages. So there's a whole different way of providing [water security]."
Despite that, a recent survey on the We Need Tillegra Dam's Facebook page found 86 per cent of 559 people who responded supported the dam's construction.
The group has the support of One Nation.
"Our position is that we support building the dam. We need more water infrastructure in NSW," recently elected NSW Upper House MP Rod Roberts said.
"A massive amount of planning went into it over many years and it was determined that, one, there was a need for it and, two, that [the proposed location] was a suitable spot for it.
"If it had have been built we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today with water security."
Mr Dowling, who owns property that would be needed to build a road to the dam if it were built, said many people who chose not to enter the public debate a decade ago were now ready to come forward to support its construction.
"After discussions over the past 18 months with many people from our community the majority do support our push for Tillegra Dam," he said.
"Back in the day there was an element of the community that were completely opposed to Tillegra Dam going ahead. They were very vocal and a lot of townsfolk chose not to speak up in favour of Tillegra Dam for fear of being berated or shut down by people who opposed the dam. I experienced it myself and many others did as well.
The group argues that it would be relatively easy to re-start the project due to the extensive planning work that was done a decade ago.
"We have the plans, it is shovel-ready," Mr Dowling said.
"No, the land is not owned by Hunter Water any more. But Hunter Water didn't own the entire Tillegra precinct when they started again in 2006 and they used legislation to say that it was critical infrastructure and we need to acquire the land which they set about doing for the next four years. It is necessary for the government to acquire land necessary to build infrastructure."
But Dungog mayor Tracy Norman, who bought about 1300 hectares of land earmarked for the dam, said the pro-Tillegra group was out of touch with community attitudes about water security.
"I am aware of the group; they have put several defamatory comments about me on their Facebook page," Ms Norman said.
"[Tillerga Dam] It doesn't come up. I talk to a lot of people at mobile offices around the shire and it is simply not raised. People have moved on.
"I also attended a Lower Hunter Water Plan forum recently and it was made clear that all other options are on the table except Tillegra."
Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen also said the door had been shut on Tillegra.
"Tillegra Dam has been taken off the table and it is not coming back. I have made that very clear to the group," he said.
"I have said them that if water security is what they are concerned about then they should support the plans we are developing for the whole region."
Tillegra Dam has been taken off the table and it is not coming back. I have made that very clear to the group."Upper Hunter National Party MP Michael Johnsen
Mr Johnsen, a National Party MP, said the government's position on Tillegra Dam was not at odds with the National Party's push to invest in more water infrastructure.
"Just because we have isolated one area doesn't mean we won't be building more dams," he said.
Despite that Mr Roberts said One Nation would continue to advocate and agitate on behalf of the pro-Tillegra group.
"The population of the Hunter is only going to keep growing. A dam is the best way to obtain water security," he said.
"My biggest fear is we are going to get a substantial amount of rain and this issue is going to get kicked down the road and we be back here in five years time."
"Recycling more water is great, we should be encouraging it, but it's not going to solve all of our problems."
A Monash University study estimated the dam's construction would have created 280 direct jobs and 1850 across the region in addition to increasing gross regional product in the Hunter by about $1.18 billion over 25 years.
It also calculated that tourism and recreational opportunities created by the dam, such as fishing and boating, would generate $588 million in aggregate investment in the region.
"The benefit to our community is not just to those workers on the dam but it's the flow-on effect and money filtering down to the community as a whole," Mr Dowling said.
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