Landowners along the route of a proposed gas pipeline from Newcastle to Queensland have reacted with alarm after Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered the project a shot in the arm this week.
Mr Morrison arrived in the Hunter on Tuesday with plans for a "gas-led" economic recovery, derided by many energy analysts and the power industry, which included a promise to build a gas-fired electricity plant at Kurri Kurri if the private sector did not commit to new energy investment by April.
The government says it will "step in" and underwrite new gas pipelines in the event of a "market failure" to ensure the supply of cheap gas to the southern states.
The Morrison strategy promises to provide the 825-kilometre Hunter Gas Pipeline with the main customer and investor-friendly financial backstop it needs to make it viable.
HGP managing director Garbis Simonian said this week that the company had asked the government to underwrite the $1.2 billion project so work could start before supply contracts were locked in.
The prospect of taxpayer-funded support for the project was a bitter blow to the many farmers and other landowners along the route who have been campaigning against the pipeline.
Stanhope resident Pamela Austin, who organised a meeting of 43 affected landholders last weekend at Elderslie, said Mr Morrison's announcement had made the 15-year-old pipeline project more real.
"People are now saying, 'They want our land and they want us to pay for it? No, no. No way. It's just rubbed the salt into the wound,'" she said.
Ms Austin, whose property is not on the route, estimated about 560 properties were affected along the route, which runs to the gas-trading hub at Wallumbilla, in western Queensland.
The pipeline was approved as "critical state infrastructure" in 2009 and received a five-year extension on that approval from the NSW Department of Planning late last year.
The department says most of the 195 public submissions it received during a two-week exhibition period in late 2018, including one from Moree Plains Shire Council, objected to the extension.
Ms Austin said many landowners had bought properties since 2009 without knowing they were on the route.
HGP has approval for a 200-metre-wide corridor in which to lay the pipe two metres underground within a 30-metre easement on properties.
The company said in a presentation to Singleton Council and landowners in late August that it would seek to reach agreement with those affected on a route through their properties and use independent valuers to set financial compensation.
It said HGP "may have the right" to compulsorily acquire the 30-metre easements as part of the pipeline licensing process but would do this only as a "last resort".
Ms Austin said the message from the company was that "you haven't got a hope in hell of not having this on your property".
"A 30-metre-wide easement on your property where you literally have to ask permission to replace a fence post.
"It's an imposition, especially on smaller properties," she said.
She said the pipeline would also affect farming activities, including crops, dams and irrigation, in some of the state's prime agricultural land.
"Landowners have very serious concerns, especially on the black-soil plains.
"There are some people who are against the whole gas thing, but most of these people are just against this imposition on them, for pittance, really."
Lawyer Marylouise Potts, an expert in landholder rights pertaining to pipelines, said HGP could compulsorily acquire easements under the Pipelines Act and the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act once it received a pipeline licence.
She expected many landowners would refuse access to HGP to undertake preliminary work until the easement acquisitions were completed.
HGP estimates the pipeline will create 350 construction jobs.
Hunter developer and HGP shareholder Hilton Grugeon said the company was revisiting the route within the 200-metre corridor "making sure everyone is as much on board as you can get everybody".
"A lot of landowners are concerned because gas is going to mean that they might be drilling under their farm, the water will run away, and they're legitimate concerns," he said.
"But this is infrastructure of a type that a couple of farmers, or a couple of landowners, cannot deprive the country of the benefit."
Mr Simonian said most of the farmers HGP had talked to were "reasonable people" and the "vast majority just want to minimise inconvenience".
"Everyone will be compensated for any losses. If we break a fence or they can't use a field, we will compensate them for the loss of the crop for that season," he said.
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