The divisive Eulie piggery proposal came to a head on Tuesday morning as around 40 people registered to have their say over the plan.
More than 80 residents packed into the Harden Mechanics Institute building for a public meeting.
The council officially rejected the proposal at Wednesday night’s meeting due to both the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) not giving their approval.
That did not stop a public display of angst that permeated the small town, clearly dividing those for and against the proposal.
John McAvoy said he was constitutionalist and felt the matter of the piggery would have to be revisited once a new, democratically elected council had been elected in September.
“It could be argued in a court of law that this is beyond an administrator,” he said.
“There is animosity in town and we have to start from scratch, good luck and may we find common cause.”
Geraldine Dwyer said while the proponents emphasised 20 full-time jobs would be created, she asked at what cost. Environmental consequences were at the top of her agenda, including fauna – reptiles, birds and aquatic life – and the health of water courses.
Jo Sachs said she knew of the tumultuous history of the proposed piggery and had sought the views of an educated few and then proceeded to thoroughly read the proposal.
“I could have just thought jobs and buried my head in the sand.” But she said antibiotics in the pork production process concerned her and she felt the project was not sustainable.
Barry Wooldridge, who lives near the proposed piggery, said he felt it was irksome and irritating hearing that animal activists were responsible for the project’s demise. “I commend the activists, but it is the local community that has objected,” he said, and there had been no mention of animal welfare in the project being rejected.
Heather Johnson, who lives and farms within 1.5 kilometres of “Eulie”, said she applauded the project’s rejection because it was not ecologically sustainable.
“It is also our right to farm without risk,” she said.
Barry Alcorn and Julia Atkin, representing the Cunningham Valley Action Group, congratulated council for its professionalism and not succumbing to pressure. They said there had been grossly inadequate information provided by Blantyre Farms and sustainability was not covered by methane capture, the most ecologically attractive measure proposed.
Ralph Gebhardt, a direct neighbour of “Eulie”, said there were no plausible reasons to deny the application and the terms “would or could be” affected had been used throughout the EPA and OEH reports without qualification or quantification. Mr Gebhardt said the development application was not haphazard as had been suggested.
John Horton, a former Harden councillor, said he had assessed the project, had looked at similar farms and said if Blantyre wanted to invest and risk $12 million and they ticked the boxes they should be allowed to proceed.
Dr Adam Pirie said he was from the area and he and his brother had studied agronomy and agricultural sustainability and he objected to the proposal on the grounds of the soil’s inability to hold extra nutrients.
“The concerns are valid, it’s a steep site and the soil’s nutrient levels are already overloaded,” he said.
Pat Pirie, Adam’s mother, who has lived in the area 30 years, said science and reason determined why the piggery was unsuitable on that site.
Dugald Walker, Young, said the council and Member for Cootamundra Katrina Hodgkinson had behaved disgracefully, and the EPA was biased and had broken promises to industry.
Andree Rowntree, introducing herself as a lawyer and pig farmer, lamented the loss of opportunity for Hilltops residents and said the council had handled the application poorly.
“It’s not a nuclear power plant, why is this DA so special? Why all the experts? How much has this cost ratepayers?” she said.
She said she was disappointed to see “farmers complaining about other farmers” and going as far as to team up with extreme (animal rights) groups.
“Choose your friends carefully when your livelihood comes from agriculture,” she said.
Mandy de Mestre said the project had been a burden on her family’s life for the past two years.
“We all have a right to farm, but with that comes a responsibility not to impact on other people’s lives.”
She said the proposed main transport corridor for the farm, Eulie Rd, crossed her familiy’s farm in nine places.
John Taylor said he objected to the proposal because it was in the wrong place. “Purchase land so it fits with development, don’t try and make it fit because you own it. This is not a conspiracy.”
Peter Holding said he was disappointed “we’ve come to this, as a small community – stick to the data, it’s in the wrong place, a better site should have been sought.”
Edwina Beveridge, Blantyre Farms, and the project’s proponent, said she knew the council’s decision would be against the project.
“Why have a meeting that has no purpose, why waste ratepayers’ money? Is the last attempt by council to ensure we leave the shire forever?”
She said when the application was originally lodged in draft form, both council and EPA advised her they had all the “information they needed, but it seems the number of objections changed that”. Ms Beveridge said neither government department provided “general terms of approval”.
“I have had approaches from 11 shires asking us to move our development there,” she said.
“The Beveridges have been farming in Harden for over 100 years, we want to grow our business here, it is a sad day when we are treated so poorly.”
Local animal activist and Say No To Blantyre Farms in Harden’s Lisa Ryan congratulated the council on its handling of the proposal and allowing the public to express their views.
“We were alarmed to witness first hand the continual interruptions and objections by the applicant's family to Say No speakers at any time we spoke about animal welfare,” Ms Ryan said.
“This was very telling given the applicant has continued to state they are industry leaders.
“The address by Tara Ward from the Animal Defenders Office, who is a lawyer who specialises in animal law, was damning in respect to how inadequate the Blantyre Farms single page EIS inclusion on animal welfare was.”