The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) is returning to Cooma after being granted the contract for the Snowy Hydro 2.0 feasibility study.
SMEC closed their Cooma offices in April last year, which at the time employed 11 people. Now, they say they will have 30 people permanently based in the town in order to conduct the feasibility study.
SMEC CEO Andy Goodwin said, “Snowy Mountains are part of our namesake and the backbone of our heritage, so the chance to be involved in this project again is a unique ‘twice-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity, both for our organisation and those engineers who worked on the original scheme.
“We’re honoured to be part of the project and looking forward to resuming our presence within the Cooma community again.”
However, there is one difference between April and now – in August last year SMEC was bought out by Surbana Jurong, an infrastructure company that is a subsidiary of the Singaporean government.
SMEC began its life as the Snowy Mountains Authority in 1949, and was created to construct the decades-long project that became the Snowy Mountains Scheme. In 1970 it became SMEC, and existed as an Australian government-owned company that completed infrastructure projects around the world.
In 1993 it was sold by the government to its staff, and remained staff-owned up until August 2016 when it was bought by Singapore.
“SMEC is a great Australian success story, having grown from its origins on the iconic Snowy Mountains Scheme in the 1950s to this significant milestone today for SMEC shareholders and employees,” SMEC Chairman Max Findlay said at the time of the buy-out.
“Together, this will be a very powerful combination to deliver top class infrastructure and urban design solutions to global clients. The group operation would have an extensive international presence, with over 100 offices in more than 50 countries in Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North and South America, employing over 9400 professionals.”
The purpose of the feasibility study is to, obviously, assess the feasibility of expanding the Snowy scheme, and should include environmental and social impact studies. It will also decide on the best course of action to increase Snowy Hydro’s output.
The frontrunner at the moment is the idea of building new underground tunnels and an underground turbine between Talbingo and Tantangara Dams, but that hasn’t yet been locked in.
SMEC have courted controversy over the years. In 2009, documents leaked to the ABC suggested SMEC had bribed the Sri Lankan government in order to secure a contract. In 2015, their Cooma offices were raided by the Australian Federal Police as part of a foreign bribery investigation.
In the same year, they were accused of misconduct when completing an environmental and social impact assessment for a new dam being built in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The dam would displace tens of thousands of people in poor villages in Myanmar’s conflict-riddled Shan state, but locals said SMEC did not properly consult with them over the dam – allegedly only explaining the positive impacts of the dam, giving them ‘gifts’ which they saw as bribes, and persuading them to sign documents they didn’t understand.
However, SMEC insisted they followed international best practice.