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Australian Dairy farmer seeking compensation after 800 Dairy cows were forced to be quarantined
May 24, 2017

A Victorian dairy farmer is seeking tens of thousands of dollars of compensation from Gippsland Water after two sewage spills on his farm forced him to quarantine 800 dairy cows.

In February last year one of Gippsland Water’s pipelines failed leaking around 300,000 litres of raw sewage onto Brian Ferguson’s farm, which is run by his son Patrick.

About 200 cows had access to the contaminated water which leaked into a stock water dam.

Dairy farmer Patrick Ferguson said he immediately notified Gippsland Water, Agriculture Victoria and the Environment Protection Authority and decontamination took nearly two weeks.

He said his entire herd of 800 cows had to be quarantined because of potential risks to human health and Australia’s biosecurity.

He said his market access had been reduced because the quarantine meant the cattle could only be sold under the supervision of a government veterinarian at approved abattoirs where carcases could be examined.

“We’re not allowed to sell to anyone except registered abattoirs. I can’t sell to my neighbour or put them through the cattle yard for auction,” he said.

“There’s been a number of animals which I would have sold on to private entities as good breeding stock, or to continue to be milked which we didn’t have that opportunity.

“We just had to sell them and take what we could get for them as chopper cows.”

Mr Ferguson said the reduced market access had had a big financial impact on his farm and continued to do so because the quarantine on his cows did not end for another six months.

“As the process goes on and we figure out how many markets we can’t sell into, the value keeps on climbing,” he said.

“Because our end date [of quarantine] is not for another six months we don’t actually know what the total loss of value would be, but at a snapshot you can easily look at a devaluation of the whole herd.

Second pipeline failure spills sewage into paddock
To make matters worse, in October last year another pipeline failed spilling sewage into a four-hectare paddock which has been quarantined until October next year.

Mr Ferguson said it was one of his most valuable fodder paddocks and they had been left with no choice but to burn it.

“The second spill didn’t directly get consumed by any stock but what it did do was spread out over a four hectare paddock,” he said.

“Part of that was to quarantine that paddock for two years, so we don’t have any use of one of our most valuable paddocks for two years from the date of it happening.”
Last month Gippsland Water’s insurers Sparke Helmore offered Mr Ferguson a settlement offer of $15,000, 14 months after the first sewage spill.

Mr Ferguson had not accepted the offer because he said it would barely cover his legal costs.

“That offer is well below what it needs to be and they know that. They know that my legal fees will exceed that by a fair bit. ” he said.

“What we’re after is an interim claim to try and get some compensation from the loss before the end date of the quarantine period.

“Cash flow is very tight and that money I need to actually put back into the business to rebuild stock numbers.

“It was about an $80,000 claim only for the first six months of losses and [Sparke Helmore] turned around and offered $15,000.”

Mr Ferguson has made the most of his farm’s highway frontage and put up a message that reads “Gippsland Water sewage spill site. February 2016. 800 dairy cows quarantined by Biosecurity Australia. No Compensation. Read more on Facebook.”

Pipeline leaks caused by faulty air valves
Gippsland Water’s General Manager of Operations Peter Skeeles said the pipeline leaks were caused by faults in the air valves and there were no signs of the defaults when they did their routine inspections.

“The failure in October was caused by a foreign body stuck in an air valve and that only leaked about one kilolitre of sewage onto Mr Ferguson’s property,” Mr Skeeles said.

“The leak in February was caused by an actual failure of the mechanism within the air valve.

“The maximum that could have been spilt from the air valve in February was between 200,000 and 300,000 litres of wastewater.”

Gippsland Water Managing Director Sarah Cumming said there was no guarantee a leak would not happen again, but said both affected pipelines were likely to be replaced later this year.

Ms Cumming said it was regrettable what had happened and Gippsland Water was asking its insurer, Sparke Helmore, to reconsider its $15,000 compensation offer.

EPA launches internal review
The Environment Protection Authority has today decided to do an internal review of their handling of the spills last year.

The EPA did not attend the spills last year because it said its preliminary assessment revealed the fault had been isolated and remediation was underway.

Damian Wells, an executive director from the EPA, said Gippsland Water was on watch and it would assess whether enough information was provided by the water corporation on the impact of the sewage spills.

“Given what we now know in terms of the significant impacts on that farm and on the business operations of that farm I have asked our team internally to review our handling of the matter,” he said.

“Gippsland Water is on watch as far as the EPA is concerned.

“One of the things we really want to understand in the review we will do, is what level of information was provided to us by the water corporation to us at the time of the spill and then how did the EPA respond,” Mr Wells said.

 

Source: ABC Rural


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