Council calls for urgent action to protect Mt Wandera telecommunications

Eurobodalla Council is calling on the NSW Government to take urgent action to improve the resilience of the shire’s most critical telecommunications infrastructure to prevent a repeat of the loss of communications the community experienced in the 2019-20 bushfires.

Atop Mount Wandera, west of Moruya, sits the main telecommunications infrastructure for the whole of Eurobodalla. It transmits police, ambulance and fire radio communications, as well as ABC and commercial radio and television, mobile phone services, and more.

Extensive damage to the facility in the Black Summer Bushfires resulted in the loss of emergency services radio networks, ABC radio broadcasting, and other telecommunications, significantly contributing to the community’s fear during the event and placing first responders at higher risk.

Above: An aerial photo of Mt Wandera looking east across Eurobodalla. The 2019-20 bushfire raced up the west face and ridge line with great intensity causing significant damage to the telecommunications infrastructure.

The infrastructure has since been repaired however it remains vulnerable. Burnt power poles leading to the site were replaced with timber and the tower is surrounded by prolific regrowth as well as dead, dying and fallen trees.

Eurobodalla Council’s infrastructure services director Warren Sharpe OAM, with the support of Eurobodalla’s Local Emergency Management Committee and Far South Coast Bushfire Management Committee, is calling for urgent funding to replace the timber power poles with a more resilient composite poles, such as those that survived the intense bushfire in the Merricumbene Valley.

He is also calling for funding to undertake immediate maintenance around the tower and to establish and maintain in perpetuity a larger asset protection zone.

Mr Sharpe said the work was relatively low cost compared to the benefits for the whole community.

“Mount Wandera is home to the most critical telecommunications in the whole Eurobodalla region, yet the resilience of the power supply and the care of the site is poor,” Mr Sharpe said.

“We’re asking the NSW Government to act immediately and allocate funds to address these deficiencies as a matter of urgency. The vegetation and tree work should be undertaken now in the winter period and can be readily achieved by contractors already in the local area.”

Mr Sharpe, who was Eurobodalla’s Local Emergency Management Officer throughout the Black Summer Bushfires, said the loss of telecommunications was one of the top issues raised by the community during and post fires.

“The damage this infrastructure sustained in the fires and the resulting loss of communications caused major stress in the community and significantly impacted response efforts. It also required us to send volunteer escorts, visiting technical specialists repair crews and our own staff, into the fire zones during the response,” Mr Sharpe said.

“We must take the lessons learnt and act now to achieve a far more resilient future. Whilst back-up battery power supply is being increased, when you look at how easy it is to make the main power supply more resilient, Governments should move now to make this and cleaning up the site an urgent priority.

“Knowing action is being taken to build a more resilient telecommunications infrastructure network is fundamentally important for the wellbeing and recovery of our still traumatised community.

Council has advocated on the issue to the local emergency management and bushfire committees receiving unanimous support to refer the matter to the State committees for urgent action. The report has also been sent to local state and federal MPs, Resilience NSW, Telco Authority, Telstra, Crown Lands, the National Recovery Agency and other agencies.

Photo: ABC's south coast transmitter on Mt Wandera that melted during Black Summer bushfires