ACTION STATIONS: Mike and Jenny Tuohy on their property at Hopeland, which sits north of the Linc Energy site and within the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection's Excavation Caution Zone.
ACTION STATIONS: Mike and Jenny Tuohy on their property at Hopeland, which sits north of the Linc Energy site and within the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection's Excavation Caution Zone. Matthew Newton

Linc Energy debacle spoils family's dream

JUST by looking at it, you would never know the Tuohy family home, nestled in a quiet bend of the Chinchilla Kogan Rd amid the patchwork of farmlands that make up Hopeland, is mere kilometres from one of the worst environmental disasters in the state's history.

Long before Linc Energy and Underground Coal Gasification were even thought of, a young Mike Tuohy arrived in Australia in the 1970s to work as a crop duster.

He had been all around the state before he was sent up to Chinchilla on a job, and thought to himself: "I might as well stay here".

The plot he bought was subdivided off a dairy farm that used to be next door.

He bought a house and trucked it in from 80km away.

Over the intervening 40 years, no fewer than 12 children have been raised on the land he calls home.

When the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection established a 300sqkm Excavation Caution Zone (ECZ) around the Linc Energy site, Mr Tuohy saw the writing on the wall.

"I could immediately see that once they put this circle business around here, that was the end of our properties having any value," he said.

"Now, okay, we're not going anywhere. This property will never be sold, I'm not allowing anyone to sell it, even if I drop off the perch.

"It's a family property, where heaps of people could have lived if they wanted to, but this has spoiled that dream."

Mr Tuohy who after a lifetime of dealing with chemicals, has come to understand that whatever was produced during Linc's UCG trials, isn't going away any time soon.

"Once they started burning the coal under the ground, it was contamination from the word go," he said.

"It's man-made, you can't get rid of it."

With 41% of landholders within the ECZ now signed up to the locally organised class action against Linc Energy and the State Government, barristers are concerned they are running out of time to get the case off the ground.

Litigation funders are seeking a sign-up of around 90% of landholders before agreeing to fund the class action.

At a public meeting on Friday, lawyer Tom Marland stressed that any landholders who sign up to the class action will not be liable for costs.

"Let me say very clearly that when we get litigation funding in place and we get the green light for this action to proceed, we will bring it on the basis that no one in this group will be personally liable for costs," Mr Marland said.

"The only costs will be covered by the litigation funder, and that's the agreement we're going to enter into - whether we win, whether we lose.

"No one will be exposed to costs."

Mr Tuohy is hoping more landholders put their names down so the action can get under way before the statute of limitations on the case runs out.

He acknowledged that while the class action won't right the wrongs that have been done to the Hopeland community, it will at least compensate it in some way.

"This isn't paradise but it's my little world, my family's little world, and I brought them all up here," he explained.

"All (the class action) would do in some way is it would compensate my family for me wasting my time setting up here.

"It's contaminated. We've got problems, and we can't get away from that."

Linc Energy is currently facing five charges of wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm in breach of the Environmental Protection Act (1994) at its Hopeland underground coal gasification plant between 2007 and 2013.

Last week, Minister for Department of Environment and Heritage Protection Dr Steven Miles described the Linc Energy debacle as "the biggest single pollution event in Queensland's history".

Linc Energy had continued to refute all charges brought against it by the Queensland Government.

The company went into voluntary administration in April and is currently in liquidation.