Australia — Toodyay farmers will pursue a claim of more than $10 million against Western Power in court after they claimed negotiations had stalled with the utility over damages from a fire which was caused by clashing powerlines.
The farmers whose properties were damaged in the fire in February last year said yesterday they had instructed their lawyer, Clavey Legal, to take matters to the Supreme Court.
The fire burnt thousands of hectares of land and schoolteacher Michelle Mack, 26, died when she crashed her car as she tried to escape from it.
A report commissioned by Western Power and released in August last year found powerlines caused the fire but did not breach national safety standards. The Office of Energy Safety, which reviewed the report, also found the utility operated within regulations.
At that time, Western Power managing director Doug Aberle said while the utility was not legally liable to pay compensation for damages, he felt a moral obligation to farmers and the family of Ms Mack to find some way to recognise and alleviate their loss.
In a statement yesterday on behalf of the group, farmer Frank Panizza said negotiations had not advanced and legal action would be taken seeking Western Power to make full payment of all losses, together with interest and legal costs.
The farmers claim property damage and stock losses were more than $10 million, and significant areas of burnt land were now at threat from salinity because of the destruction of remnant vegetation. Remedial work to the land had been held up because of a lack of resources, Mr Panizza said.
Last night, Western Power said it had been having discussions with the farmers and recognised the loss suffered even though it maintained that there was no legal liability.
Mr Aberle said discussions between Western Powers independent valuer and a valuer for the farmers had been delayed by three weeks.
Although Western Powers valuer has already carried out his evaluation of loss and presented that to the farmers valuer there has been a delay in their meeting to discuss the various valuation reports, he said. I expect the experts would have completed their discussion by the end of July.
He said Western Power remained committed to the negotiations. It was also continuing discussions with the family of Ms Mack.
The farmers will also write to Energy Minister Fran Logan and Premier Alan Carpenter to urge their intervention to ensure the negotiations proceed.