Inner West Independent

WestConnex blasting scrapped, concern over roadheaders grows

Protestors opposing the WestConnex construction in Leichhardt. Photo: Leichhardt Against WestConnex

By DANIEL LO SURDO

A proposal by the WestConnex’s joint-venture contractor to undertake tunnel blasting beneath Leichhardt’s 36th Battalion Park and Pioneers Memorial Park has been abandoned. 

The decision was made formal in last month’s construction update after a WestConnex spokesperson revealed to City Hub on February 16 that blasting was “highly unlikely” to occur in the Leichhardt area.  

Joint-venture contractor Acciona Samsung Bouygues determined it was not necessary to change construction methodology after monitoring ground conditions and excavation as part of the WestConnex M4-M5 Link Tunnels Project. 

“Late last year, the Contractor contacted residents from properties … in Leichhardt, to inform the community they were investigating the potential use of controlled blasting in the event they encountered hard rock while tunnelling in this section,” a WestConnex spokeswoman told City Hub

“The Contractor has determined that controlled blasting will not be required in Leichhardt or elsewhere on the project. Tunnelling will continue with roadheaders.” 

Member for Balmain Jamie Parker welcomed the Contractor’s decision, but expressed concern for households continuing to be overwhelmed by the excavation. 

“Of course this news will come as a huge relief to all those residents whose homes sit over the blast zone,” Parker told City Hub

“The noise, dust and disruption couldn’t have come at a worse time with many locals still working from home and unable to escape the 24/7 construction noise. It’s been horrendous.”

Continued apprehension

Parker’s sentiment was echoed by Leichhardt Against WestConnex (LAW) Co-Convenor Jennifer Aaron, who, despite the blasting decision, understands community apprehension surrounding the use of roadheaders persist. 

“Leichhardt Against WestConnex welcomes the [Contractor’s] decision not to proceed with blasting in Leichhardt,” Aaron told City Hub in March. 

“However, residents and property owners along the route of the M4-M5 Link and Rozelle Interchange tunnels continue to be concerned about ground settlement brought about by tunnelling using roadheaders.” 

Aaron fears that landowners will struggle to receive fair compensation for the potential damage caused to their property by roadheaders. 

“Based on the experience of property owners impacted by tunnelling and construction in other stages of this project, residents and property owners are not confident that either the … contractors or the NSW Government [will be] accepting responsibility for damage or dealing with property damage claims,” Aaron said. 

“Residents and property owners have already incurred considerable expense for their own dilapidation reports and satellite data reports, such is the lack of confidence in the contractors or the NSW Government [for] dealing with claims fairly.” 

With excavation inching closer to Leichhardt, there is growing concern that an expected increase in noise disturbances will be disregarded by the joint-venture. 

“Residents are [reporting] high levels of extreme tunnelling noise disturbance with no respite from 24/7 tunnelling,” Aaron said. 

“Residents are unsure of mitigation they might be entitled to and who to complain to.” 

Aaron also raised uneasiness with the termination of the WestConnex Community Reference Groups, which previously functioned to offer a forum for feedback and discussion between the project team and community representatives. 

“The recent abolition … has removed an opportunity for these concerns to be raised directly with senior people from the project teams and Transport for NSW,” Aaron said. 

“It is not currently clear what the forum for raising concerns reported to LAW will be going forward.”

The final breakthrough for the M4-M5 Link Tunnels excavation is expected later in 2021 when the Haberfield and Camperdown/Annandale teams meet under Leichhardt. 

Roadheaders are a piece of tunnelling equipment with a conveyor, a cutter and a crawler travelling track to ensure the machine moves forward into the rock face. 

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