Council split on chicken venture

A CHICKEN hatchery which will irrigate nearly eight million litres of wastewater every year upstream of Allora was given the go-ahead at a council planning meeting in Warwick yesterday.

The plan by Darwalla Milling for a million bird a week hatching operation next to Dalrymple Creek – from which the Best Little Town on the Downs draws its drinking water supplies – was approved after a tense five against three vote of Southern Downs Regional councillors.

This was despite almost all present, including Mayor Ron Bellingham and senior council officers, agreeing the site on Bradfields Rd was far from ideal, being on the floodplain close to Allora.

The planning committee vote yesterday needs to be ratified at next week’s general council meeting, but planning department director Ken Harris made it clear council would have no firm legal leg to stand on if it turned down the plan.

Darwalla operates poultry farms at Talgai and Clifton from where eggs will be taken to the Allora site, which will eventually incubate and hatch a million chicks every week.

The chicks will not be fed at the hatchery and will be moved on four times a week to growing facilities elsewhere.

A report to councillors yesterday outlined a plan by Darwalla to irrigate surrounding pasture for cropping with the 7.8 million litres of wastewater the hatchery will produce every year once it reaches full production.

Waste products of chicken hatcheries include dead chicks, infertile eggs, egg shells and yolks, with the irrigation water having been used to clean out the massive 5000 sqm shed proposed.

Council officers admitted there had been a “mix-up” with information placed on public display, conceding that the daily volume of wastewater to be used for irrigation would be 30,000 litres and not 4000 as had been stated.

Around 20 objections were lodged against the hatchery, with a common thread being fears over contamination of Allora’s water supply caused by seepage of wastewater into the underground water table.

Other concerns raised include noise, odour and dust from the hatchery, which will employ up to 40 staff and will operate seven days a week.

Cr Jo McNally – who voted against the plan along with Crs Cameron Gow and Ross Bartley – pointed to a clause in the Warwick town plan which she claimed ruled out a chicken hatchery on an alluvial plain.

She also urged her council colleagues to apply the “precautionary principle”, saying the exact impact on Allora’s water was “unknown”.

Cr Bartley agreed, also expressing concern about how close the shed would be to the creek and that the council’s new flood study – expected to show revised flood heights – will not be ready until September at the earliest.

Cr Gow said council officers would need to monitor the operation and have agreements in place with Darwalla that if operating conditions were not adhered to the hatchery would be shut down until things were remedied.

Cr Denise Ingram moved in favour of approval and was seconded by Mayor Ron Bellingham, with Deputy Mayor Peter Blundell and Crs Vic Pennisi and Mally McMurtrie also in favour.

When questioned about the suitability of the site Mr Harris conceded there were better sites in the region for a chicken hatchery but said councillors did not have “the luxury” of looking at other sites and could only decide on the application as it came before them.

Darwalla states in its application that if the site was flooded and roads were cut all chicks on site at the time would be “humanely destroyed” after several days.

Council’s approval comes with nearly 200 separate conditions on the Darwalla hatchery operation.

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