The announcement by State Water of plans to close Brandy Mary’s Park at the foot of the Blowering Dam next month has deservedly drawn widespread criticism within our community.
State Water, once a government department but corporatised in 2004, says maintaining parks is no longer part of its core business, and as such, it can’t afford to continue to look after the Blowering park.
By way of background, the corporation’s commitment to the upkeep of the recreation area has been waning since the park was re-opened to the public in December 2010, having been cordoned off previously during the $30 million upgrade of the dam spillway.
Councillors in 2011 subsequently highlighted some of the issues that had arisen since the area’s re-opening to the public, pointing out the overgrown grass, empty gas cylinders in the barbecue area, lack of attention to the amenities and generally unkempt appearance of the site.
Since then, State Water has continued to provide what it calls “rudimentary maintenance” of the park: meaning when the grass gets too long it’s mowed, and the toilets are cleaned. The barbecue facilities have been shuttered.
There’s been no improvements to facilities for a long time.
Following approaches from Tumut Council, there was an offer put on the table by State Water to share responsibility for the park, but council baulked at the yearly cost of up to $15,000. Like all councills, it’s tired of being lumped with additional burdens from the state government (and now its corporations) and replied with a polite no thanks.
It was no surprise then to see State Water write to council in December and signal it would close the park in February.
It’s similarly easy to understand why State Water wants to rid itself of responsibility of the small park. It’s job is to manage its 20 dams and 280 weirs – it’s assets are valued at $3.5 billion – to provide water for irrigators, not look after recreation areas.
Since being corporatised in 2004, State Water says it has restructured to focus more on its “core functions” of dam management and water delivery.
“The corporatisation and subsequent restructure realigned resources more in line with any contemporary business operation,” a spokesperson told the Times last year.
That means profitibility is now part of State Water’s DNA, and they’re not doing too badly: Last year they reported a profit of $32.8 million having delivered about 4500 gigalitres of water.
But while State Water adopts a business philosophy, crucially, it’s not treated like a business, namely when it comes to the payment of rates.
State Water doesn’t pay a cent to Tumut Council. It’s a similar story with Snowy Hydro and Forests NSW. If these corporations want to operate as a business – and if not, why else have they been corporatised – then they should pay rates as any other business would.
We’re sure Tumut Council would be delighted to look after Brandy Mary’s Park if State Water was made to pay rates on the 44-square-kilometre surface area of the dam.
There’s no figures publicly available showing how much Blowering Dam contributes to the bottom line of State Water’s profits.
The question has to be asked, just how much of the profit generated by State Water within this Shire stays here?
Considering the environmental damage and economic impact on farmers of the eroding, unnaturally flowing Tumut River, caused by the passage of water from the dam to irrigators, the least the corporation could do is fork out for the maintenance of Brandy Mary’s Park, and consider it a small token of community goodwill for the sigificant monetary benefit that State Water draws from our region.
Brandy Mary’s is no longer the popular recreation area it used to be among locals. No doubt that’s partly because parks around Tumut, including Pioneer, Billa and The Junction, have developed so wonderfully over the past couple of decades.
But it’s also because Brandy Mary’s has been neglected. Locals may be well-catered for around town, but for tourists travelling to the top of the dam wall for the spectacular view, the park could only be a disappointment.
It wouldn’t take a lot to make the park a ‘must-stop’ attraction for drivers passing by.
As many have said before us, the placement of interpretive signage highlighting the rich history of the area before the dam; as well as the amazing story of the storage’s construction and it’s place in the Snowy Hydro scheme, could re-invigorate the park (together with an upgrade of the amenities).
The Brandy Mary’s Park maintenance debate has wider implications, given the recent coporatisation of Forests NSW.
Minister Katrina Hodgkinson has issued assurances that the forestry’s non-core activities will continue to be carried out, such as fire operations and access to tourist facilities, post corporatisation.
But given State Water’s attitude to it’s non-core assets, how long will it be before Forests NSW shuts off some of its recreation facilities, such as the numerous camping areas, 4WD and walking tracks; the mountain bike trails on the edge of Tumut that host the hugely popular cycling events; or beautiful Sugar Pine walk near Laurel Hill.
Already we’ve seen a popular tourist road to the western side of Blowering Dam closed for a lengthy period by the forestry.
Now that it’s a corporation, Forests NSW is a step further away from any political influence which Tumut Council could exercise through any lobbying effort.
For now, Tumut council is hoping State MP Daryl Maguire can convince State Water to re-think its strategy on Brandy Mary’s Park.
But the state government corporations, and there new focus on profits, may now be out of reach of the council.