Mary River, Traveston project: Property bloodbath that cost Queensland $318m

by Ted Sorensen
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THE biggest property bloodbath in the state’s history – which has cost Queenslanders a staggering $318 million – is officially over.

Almost a decade after the Federal Government blocked a controversial move to dam the Mary River, 150km north of Brisbane, The Courier-Mail can reveal the last lots acquired for the project have been sold.

To make way for the proposed Traveston Crossing Dam, the then Beattie Government bought more than 500 properties, comprising 656 individual lots, for $520 million.

Extraordinary losses suffered by the government included selling a property it bought for a whopping $25.3 million back to the owners for just $8.5 million, and losing almost $5 million on a dairy farm.

The controversial plan was announced in 2006 after a prolonged drought in the southeast. However, it was rejected by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett in 2009 after a community backlash and series of environmental studies.

Mr Garrett said he had made the decision based on science and the “unacceptable impact” it would have on threatened species, including the Mary River turtle and Australian lungfish.

This left the state government with 13,000ha of land it didn’t need, and a string of ghost towns as many owners took the money and ran.

The government’s protracted sell-off concluded yesterday and a spokesman for the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning said the total amount recovered via sales and development leases was $201.9m – a monumental loss of almost $320m.

“The Queensland Government has implemented a range of economic development strategies, resulting in increased economic activity in the Mary Valley region,” the spokesman said.

The agency contracted to sell the properties, Oliver Hume, achieved prices ranging from $17,000 to $8.5m.

State manager Matt Barr said the last two – 115 Kress Road, Tuchekoi and 807 Lowe Road, Moy Pocket – had been finalised.

“We’ve been involved in the project for coming up to four-and-a-half years. It’s been a lengthy process but there has been a beneficial outcome for the Mary Valley … people have picked up some fabulous properties … and the State has finally cleared its assets,” he said.

Hayden Winter and Jade Tighe with son Leo 2, and daughter Evie 5 months, and their pet pigs on their Kandanga property they picked up for a steal off the Queensland State Government after the failed Traveston Crossing Dam Project.

The Moy Pocket property, bought for almost $2 million in 2007, sold for $880,000 while Kress Rd, an outdoor activity centre bought for $1.94m in 2007 fetched just over $1m.

The most mind-blowing loss for the government – and Queenslanders – was on Bollier Park, regarded as the “jewel in the crown” of the Mary Valley’s grazing estates.

Records show the prized property on 13 titles with three dwellings and 880.5ha of land at 287 Tuchekoi Road was bought by the government from the Gear family in 2009 for a whopping $25.3m.

The land was then leased to the previous owners for a nominal $20 a week and the Gears later bought it back for $8.5m – a profit of $16.5m.

John and Mary Cochrane’s dairy farm on Goomong Road, Kandanga, was another big hit.

The 141ha spread was acquired for $7.6m in 2007 and bought back by the Cochranes for $2.78m in January 2016.

Mr Cochrane said the government buy-up was a “vote-catcher” by Premier Beattie that had gone horribly wrong.

“The water issue is emotional, and people are very sensitive about it. Beattie needed to win an election, so he said, ‘we will build a dam’. But it was stupid and was never going to work.”

Mr Cochrane said viable farms that had been in the same family for generations ceased operation and businesses that relied on them were decimated. Kandanga, Imbil, Kenilworth and Gympie were badly affected.

Organic farmers and retailers Amber and Tim Scott, of Kandanga Farm Store, said the dam drama was about more than real estate; it had ripped a community apart.

They said it also showed all Queenslanders that no home was safe if a government wanted it for their own purposes.

Mrs Scott said they moved to the area in 2006 when the fight had just started. The property they bought was at Amamoor, just outside the proposed catchment.

“The thing that really struck me was the sense of insecurity the dam period created,” she said.

“We think that if we own our own property then we have absolute rights over it, but the dam (plan) showed that is not the case.

“All that investment of money, time and emotion doesn’t mean anything if the government determines that your land is of more importance to their objectives.”

Mrs Scott said people whose families had been here for generations packed up and left. Farming all but stopped as there was no certainty that efforts in the short term would be rewarded later.

“Houses and properties sat vacant which invited crime. It really did completely destroy the community,” she said.

“Some people got out at the start and financially they did very well. The ones that stayed and fought really did so at their own financial and emotional expense.”

Mrs Scott said the fighting spirit that she and Tim had witnessed showed them that they had come to a region that was worth saving.
The Government paid $1.77m for 24 Park Lane, Boiler, and sold it for $705,500.

DAM GOOD BUYS:

A selection of Mary Valley bargains in the wake of the failed Traveston project:

287 Tuchekoi Rd, “Bollier Park,” prized cattle property, 13 titles, 3 dwellings and 863.71ha. Government paid $25.3m. Sold to original owners for $8.5m.

371 Goomong Rd, Kandanga, dairy farm on 141.15ha. Government paid $7.59m. Sold back to original owners for $2.78m

3230 Mary Valley Rd, Imbil, 4-bed house on 127.76ha. Government paid $3.4m. Sold back for $1.2m

67 Belli Oak Tree Rd, Belli Park, 4-bed home on 70.33ha. Government paid $1.4m. Sold back for $510,000.

24 Park Lane, Bollier, 4-bed home on 65ha. Government paid $1.77m. Sold for $705,500. Re-sold (Sep 27, 2018) $1.245m

807 Lowe Rd Moy Pocket, 4-bed home on 63ha. Government paid $1.958m. Sold for $880,000

19 Chippindall Rd, Bollier, 3-bed home on 72ha. Government paid $1.2m. Sold for $702,000.

49 Belli Oak Tree Rd, Belli Park, 1-bed cottage on 18ha. Government paid $620,000. Sold for $140,000

3285 Mary Valley Rd, Imbil, 3-bed home on 49ha, Government paid $950,000. Sold $for 472,000

50 Parkinson Rd, Bollier, 3-bed home on 4.88ha. Government paid $572,000. Sold for $333,335

WATER TORTURE: TIMELINE OF THE TRAVESTON DAM PLAN

JULY 2006: Dam project announced. The project was set to cost $1.7 billion, with stage one to be finished by mid-2011. This dam would hold 70,000 megalitres of water. Stage 2, to hold 150,000 megalitres, was scheduled for 2035

AUG 2006: Objections flow in

OCT 2006: Deputy Premier Anna Bligh visits an emotion-charged public meeting at Traveston Crossing site

MAY 2007: Reports in the media reveal fears of possible impact on Australian lungfish.

JUNE 2007: Queensland Government provides 1200 pages to a Senate Inquiry into Traveston Crossing Dam

OCT 2007: Government announces a $35 million Freshwater Species Conservation Centre to study and protect the Mary River cod, Queensland lungfish and the Mary River turtle

NOV 2008: Premier Anna Bligh announces project will be delayed for at least two years

SEPT 2009: Queensland co-ordinator general Colin Jensen gives the dam conditional support, handing over the proposal to Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

NOV 2009: Minister Garrett rejects the dam proposal

NOV 2009: The State is left with 500 properties that it no longer needs. It begins a sell-off

OCT 2018: The last of the dam project-related properties are sold. With the original cost $520m and only $201.9m recouped, the loss is calculated at almost $320m

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