The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) has been involved in dozens of destructive hydro-engineering projects that caused harm to many local communities in Asia from Mongolia to Laos. Today the RwB Coalition Coordinator Eugene Simonov arrived at Australia to report at the Riversymposium and to help local allies to pressure New South Wales Government to reassess impacts of Warragamba Dam that threatens the the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The ABC reporting below.
An international group says in its Submission to NSW Senate company involved in the Warragamba Dam-raising project has an “established history of abusing Indigenous rights across the globe”.
A group representing 20 non-government organisations and environmental bodies from across Asia has made a submission to the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the project, which would raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 14 metres.
The State Government says the dam wall needs to be raised to protect highly flood-prone areas of western Sydney.
But the plan has drawn criticism from traditional owners and environmentalists who say valuable sacred sites and objects, and flora and fauna, will be destroyed by a higher water level.
They say the project is simply designed to aid more development on the floodplain.
The submission details a number of allegations against the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) regarding its involvement in projects in Myanmar, Mongolia, Laos and Uganda.
Signatories include the Living River Association and the Mekong Community Institute from Thailand, the 3S Rivers Protection Network in Cambodia and the Centre for Social Research and Development in Vietnam.
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SMEC accused of involvement in ‘questionable’ projects
SMEC Australia was appointed in 2017 to prepare the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, including the Aboriginal heritage assessment, which it hired a sub-contractor to complete.
The first signatory to the submission, Eugene Simonov from the Rivers without Boundaries International Coalition, said SMEC has been involved in several “very questionable” water infrastructure projects since the mid-2000s, including the Mong Ton Dam in Myanmar and Taishir Hydro in Mongolia.
“There is common disregard for local communities that clearly comes to mind if you compare all those projects,” Dr Simonov told the ABC from China.
“Basically, local communities are not being sufficiently consulted, their wellbeing is not being well-considered, their culture is not being protected, and the projects — some of them at least — are basically incompatible with continued sustainable living of local people on their land along the river.”
The submission also citedallegations of bribery and corruption in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, which saw subsidiaries of SMEC International debarred by the World Bank in 2017.
It called on the NSW Government to redo the environmental and cultural assessments for the Warragamba Dam project using another company.
The SMEC website says the company, born out of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, was officially established in 1970.
SMEC expanded internationally in the 1980s and 1990s and joined the Singaporean group Surbana Jurong in 2016.
In a statement, SMEC denied it ever failed to do adequate consultations on the projects mentioned in the submission.
“SMEC has been engaged across various international projects as an Independent Technical Consultant … and is proud of its known reputation for professional work,” the company said.
“SMEC denies that it has ever taken a biased position or favoured one side of the impacts assessment process over the other.
“SMEC’s aim is to conduct anEIA/SIA [social impact assessment] process that is inclusive, constructive and transparent and which follows international best practice for open and engaging community consultations.”
‘Our requests have been ignored’
Gundungurra traditional owner Kazan Brown said she was not surprised by the allegations in the submission.
“The way they’ve treated us, it doesn’t surprise me at all … [our] requests have been ignored, the whole Aboriginal heritage assessment is just rubbish,” she said.
“SMEC and their consultants have done a tick-the-box consultation … we’ve just been left out of it.
“Redo the whole thing … they weren’t down there long enough to do an assessment.”
Petr Matous from Sydney University’s School of Civil Engineering said SMEC was not the only international engineering company to attract negative attention.
“Dam projects in particular often necessitate large-scale resettlement of local inhabitants, which is always extremely controversial,” DrMatous said.
“The potentially most significant impacts of [the Warragamba Dam] project are on sites of cultural significance in the Blue Mountains.
“Regardless which company leads the assessment process, a significant component of the assessment needs to be conducted in consultation with the traditional custodians in a culturally appropriate manner … the assessment cannot be just a tick-box exercise over an already pre-determined project brief.”
SMEC’s statement said they hired a specialist Aboriginal heritage consultant to conduct the assessment, that their report had been peer-reviewed and more consultation was planned when the EIS goes on public display.
“Regular and ongoing consultation with Aboriginal communities has been undertaken,” it said.
Harry Burkitt from Give a Dam, which is campaigning against the project, said any assessment by SMEC needed to be scrapped.
“The NSW and Federal governments must now find aworld’s-best-practice environmental consultancy firm to redo all cultural and world heritage assessments for the Warragamba Dam project,” he said.
A WaterNSW spokesperson said in a statement SMEC Australia was not involved in the projects detailed in the submission, only its international subsidiaries.
Source: Group involved in raising of Warragamba Dam accused of links to ‘questionable’ projects By Kathleen Calderwood www.abc.net.au