A TASMANIAN farmer is demanding compensation, believed to be at least $150,000, after herbicides sprayed on a Gunns forest plantation site apparently washed on to adjoining pasture.
The state Government is investigating whether any of the herbicides, including one chemical linked to crop contamination in the US, has contaminated waterways.
Local residents and community groups last night called for independent tests to be conducted to show whether drinking water had been polluted.
The concerns centre on a cattle grazing property at Dairy Plains, Western Creek, in the state’s rural north. Residents’ groups say heavy rains in August washed herbicides applied to a Gunns plantation site in late June on to land owned by farmer Michael Terry.
Mr Terry is understood to have lost pasture. Samples have been taken from a large dam on the property that is feared to have been contaminated.
Local community groups – Western Rivers Preservation Trust and the Meander Valley Action Group – said they feared the Western Creek, Meander River and South Esk River had been contaminated.
Rod Hutchins, of the Meander Valley Action Group, said these waterways provided water for towns such as Deloraine and Westbury, and the West Tamar, as well as emergency supplies for Launceston.
Mr Terry would not comment yesterday, but confirmed to The Australian that he was negotiating a settlement with Gunns. “I’m in negotiation with Gunns at the moment and don’t want to comment,” Mr Terry said. It is understood he agists dairy and beef cattle on his land.
Gunns was also tight-lipped. “Gunns is continuing to comply with all relevant regulations,” a spokesman said.
The state Department of Primary Industry and Water confirmed it was investigating possible contamination. “The DPIW spray unit is investigating whether there has been any contamination of a waterway in the Western Creek area,” spokesman Simon de Salis said.
Mr Hutchins said it was one of about eight examples of herbicide spray from forestry plantations affecting neighbouring properties in the state’s north and east in the past six months.
He believed two herbicides had been sprayed on the Western Plains plantation land by Gunns: Oust and Glyphosate. “There is meant to be a buffer zone but they sprayed right up to the fence and the wash-off after heavy rains went as far as 1.5km into the adjoining property and into a dam used for irrigation,” Mr Hutchins said.
While Mr Terry would not comment on the negotiations with Gunns, Mr Hutchins said he was aware that company director, and former Liberal premier, Robin Gray was among Gunns’ representatives talking to the farmer.
Neil Graham, president of the Western Rivers Preservation Trust, questioned Gunns’ environmental credentials. “How can Gunns hope to establish a pulp mill with environmental guidelines when they can’t even adhere to guidelines in respect to establishing simple plantations?” he said.
The incident has inflamed local opposition to forest plantations, which have expanded rapidly in recent years, fuelled by tax-friendly investment schemes, taking over farmland. “They are destroying our way of life,” Mr Hutchins said.
“Farmers get offers for their land that are too good to refuse and with them goes their families, and with them the services and community. There is also concern about whether the use of these chemicals is linked to the higher incidence of certain cancers in the north of Tasmania.”
4/10/07: Western Creek Coupe: Simazine 0.24ug/L (Tim Morris MP FoI)