Inner West Independent

WestConnex: Blasting underneath Leichhardt ‘highly unlikely’ to occur

A protest banner opposing the WestConnex construction in Leichhardt. Photo: Leichhardt Against WestConnex

By DANIEL LO SURDO

The WestConnex contractor’s proposal to blast underneath Leichhardt’s 36th Battalion Park and Pioneers Memorial Park has been deemed “highly unlikely” to occur. 

City Hub understands a final decision on the proposal will be made by the joint-venture contractor, Acciona Samsung Bouygues, in the coming days. 

“The contractor has advised that it is highly unlikely controlled blasting will be used for tunnelling on this project, including in the Leichhardt area,” a WestConnex spokesperson told City Hub

“The contractor’s final decision is expected soon, and the community and stakeholders will be advised of the decision.” 

The verdict to avoid blasting under Leichhardt will be welcomed by Inner West residents, who were concerned with the harm that this form of excavation would present in their community. As part of the procedure, small charges would be detonated in pre-drilled holes to properly withdraw harder rock into manageable pieces for removal. 

The project team began community engagement programs last year to communicate with residents on the possibility of blasting underneath their homes and businesses. 

Leichhardt and Annandale both free from blasting

The proposal to blast in Leichhardt came after similar plans in nearby Annandale were abandoned in July of last year. After three small-scale blasts under Reserve Street, the contractor instead opted for rock breakers and roadheaders as a more practical means of tunnel excavation. 

Leichhardt Against WestConnex Co-Convenor Jennifer Aaron believed that landowners would be left without meaningful support against the blasting. 

“Property owners ultimately carry … the risk of repairs not being adequate or of sufficient quality,” Aaron told City Hub in December. 

“Throughout the prior stages of the project, residents who have suffered damage at the time of tunnelling have had their claims knocked back. Even when the earlier stage contractors agreed to pay for rectification it has taken years for the remedial works to commence.”

Potential property damage remained atop the primary concerns for Leichhardt residents feeling increasingly disillusioned with the likelihood of receiving just compensation. 

“When claims arise, the contractors won’t provide owners of property that have sustained damage with the satellite data and geotechnical reports that might assist in establishing causation,” Aaron said. 

“Property owners will have to obtain reports at their own cost in order to prove their claim.”

The joint-venture contractor first applied to blast underneath Leichhardt to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment in November last year. 

The proposition was met with substantial opposition throughout the Inner West. Member for Balmain Jamie Parker understood the application to offer little benefit for his community. 

“Explosive blasting is inherently risky and produces intense noise and vibration,” Parker said.

“It threatens serious damage to properties over and above the damage that is already being caused by conventional tunnelling in our local area.”

A final decision regarding the implementation of blasting was expected to be made by the contractor last month when it was expected that the excavating team would be in the direct vicinity of the potentially hard rock. 

The contractor’s verdict to continue excavating without blasting would most likely mean that rock breakers and road headers will be used in Leichhardt, similarly to Annandale’s Reserve Street. 

WestConnex’s M4-M5 Link Tunnels begun construction in 2018 and is expected to be opened to traffic in 2023. The twin 7.5-kilometre tunnels will provide an underground link between Haberfield and St Peters, offering a western bypass of the CBD. 

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