A GROUP of farmers is preparing for the final stage of a 17-year battle with Western Power over compensation for land the utility has taken to carry high voltage power lines.
The farmers say they are not against the powerlines going onto their land. Rather, what they are angry about is the way they say Western Power has dragged the process out.
In some cases the farmers have been fighting with the utility since 1987 for compensation for their land. They say the long delay has been a deliberate tactic by Western Power to force landowners to accept the compensation offered.
About 330 landowners lost land to the powerlines and only 12 remain to agree to compensation.
Under Western Power’s offer, the landowners are only entitled to full compensation, based on a valuation conducted by the valuer general’s office, on land directly beneath the pylons plus four metres.
However, the easement Western Power takes is usually about 60 metres wide and the compensation for the parts not beneath the pylons is between 25 per cent and 60 per cent, depending on the circumstances.
The utility does not offer any compensation for loss of aesthetics to the land or separation of use caused by the powerlines.
The farmers, who are spread throughout the South West, say the 330-kilovolt lines, used to carry power from the Collie power station to Perth, have dramatically reduced the value of their properties.
In some cases the properties have been in family ownership for four generations.
The farmers agreed that the utility should resume the land in August. Final submissions for the land’s value must be filed by April.
With the resumption process under way it seems a battle in the Supreme Court of Western Australia, likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, is coming.
Besides what they say is low compensation, the farmers are complaining about the raft of conditions they have been hit with, such as the types of crops they can grow on their land and the sort of machinery they can park near the powerlines.
One legal expert told WA Business News that, while the easement requirements did not seem excessively onerous at face value, “reading between the lines” they were quite restrictive.
Compensation valuer Terry Dix, who is acting for several of the farmers, said the utility had been slow to resolve the issue.
“Western Power refused to take an interest in the land under those powerlines until August 2003 but they entered those properties, in most cases, on or before January 1990,” he said.
“All of these things are an invasion of people’s property rights.”
Mr Dix said one group he was representing in Wellard had managed to sell their land for redevelopment as residential property so the easement had been passed on to those purchasers.
“That is a classic example of where the damage to those properties’ value was probably half a million dollars,” he said.
Mr Dix said a battle for compensation in the Supreme Court was likely to cost $300,000.
Coalfields Highway property owner Warren Edwards said the placement of the 330kv line on his property had affected both its immediate use and ruined his future plans.
He said the powerlines had also removed the use of an airstrip on his property that had been used by crop dusting planes.
Mr Edwards had planned to subdivide his 162-hectare property into 40ha lots for each of his four children.
However, with the powerlines running through the property he said that plan was now ruined.
Brunswick Junction farmer Tony Warburton said he had been fighting with Western Power for compensation on his land since 1987.
He said the powerlines had markedly reduced the value of a property that had been in his family for four generations.
“When we go to sell, we are likely to lose one third of what the property is worth due to that powerline,” Mr Warburton said.
“Western Power has been putting pressure on us all of the time. We’ve had about four valuations done on it and they told us we would have been better to take the amount they [Western Power] offered us in 1987 because the valuations have gone down about $5,000 to $6,000.”
However, Western Power says the act that governs it limits it to the type of compensation that can be paid.
Western Power network support services manager Rudy Teh said the act prohibited the utility from paying compensation for damage to the aesthetics of the region.
“If we did that we’d be compensating people from miles away because they can see the line,” he said.
Mr Teh said Western Power had not been deliberately delaying taking an interest in the land under the powerlines on the affected properties.
“The delay was more to do with people not accepting the offer we made to them. We go to deal with the landowners and they counter offer with something ridiculous,” he said.
“The only route we have now is to resume the land. But before we go down that route the owners have to agree. They have all done that now.”
Mr Teh said Western Power went to a lot of effort to ensure that as few people as possible were affected when it was putting in new power infrastructure.
“When we go to sell, we are likely to lose one third of what the property is worth due to that powerline. Western Power has been putting pressure on us all of the time.”
- Tony Warburton