News | 11th Feb, 2011

Vic freeway closed amid landslip fears

Friday, 11 February 2011
World News Australia, SBS

A section of a major freeway in Victoria's east will be closed for up to four months amid fears of a landslip at an adjacent coal mine.

The development arose as the flood-weary state endured another drenching.

The Princes Freeway was closed south of Morwell, about 150km east of Melbourne, on Thursday night amid concerns over a landslip at the adjacent Hazelwood coal mine.

It could be closed for up to three or four months, a VicRoads spokesman said.

Recent heavy rains are being blamed for movement in land at the north side of the mine and authorities say minor cracks have appeared in the freeway's surface.

Energy and Resources Minister Michael O'Brien said there had been movement in the land on the north wall of the mine after the recent heavy rain but added "it's not a landslide that we're talking about at the moment".

"It's not entirely uncommon for rain to have impacts on mine operations but there's sufficient concern here that we've taken the precaution of closing the Princes Freeway until the stability of that road can be assessed," he told ABC radio on Friday.

He said the affected area did not affect the operation of the Hazelwood Power Station or the state's energy supply.

The brown coal-fired station supplies about one quarter of Victoria's power.

The threat of a landslip has renewed calls from environmentalists for the station to be closed.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham said the incident raised concerns about the mine's safety and he called on the new coalition government to set a timeline to replace the outdated power station.

"The risk of subsidence was raised as a major issue by Environment Victoria and others in 2006 when the decision was made to expand Hazelwood mine," he said.

Before Labor lost the November election, the Brumby government had said it would seek the staged closure of Hazelwood Power Station, the state's biggest greenhouse polluter.

Mr Wakeham said the coalition must now rethink its hands-off approach to the station's future.

Local residents have been told it's unlikely they will need to move from their homes.

The freeway's closure came as thunderstorms dumped up to 42mm of rain in the state's north and northeast on Thursday night and into Friday morning.

About a dozen homes in Tatura, near Shepparton in the state's north, were damaged, with the roof blown off one property, State Emergency Service (SES) media manager Lachlan Quick said.

Melbourne was also hit with the SES receiving 30 calls for help from residents in the south-western suburbs of Newport and Altona at the height of the storm at 9-10pm (AEDT) on Thursday.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Richard Carlyon said the storms were nothing compared to last Friday's deluge and January's rains.