Western Power face legal threat

28 Jan, 2004 10:00 PM

A MEETING scheduled this week between the two shires affected by the Tenterden fire may clear the way for legal action to be taken against Western Power.

Hostility towards the utility has been exacerbated by its managing director Stephen van der Mye's denial of guilt in the blaze that killed two local women and caused an estimated $20 million damage to crops, stock and fencing.

This was despite a finding of an independent review by Energy Safety that a Western Power live conductor clashed with an earthwire to spark the fire.

Dr van der Mye rejected the findings and said Western Power would hold its own investigation.

Plantagenet Shire president Kevin Forbes said his local council and that of Cranbrook Shire had had individual reviews of the tragedy and were to meet on Tuesday for discussions on topics that would include their collective legal options.

He said Dr van der Mye had been labelled an "ignorant animal" by locals and his actions had made a strong compensation challenge inevitable.

"For a bloke in his position to be so insensitive and so ignorant of the situation is just inexcusable, especially after his boss (Energy Minister Eric Ripper) gave him a blast," Mr Forbes said.

Cranbrook Shire president Nick Burges said the denial was not surprising given the damage an admission of guilt could cause Western Power's insurance policies and its defence against a compensation claim.

Gingin residents are already suing for $4 million following a fire in 2002 that was blamed on Western Power and resulted in home and crop losses.

And Mr Forbes said he was informed the utility's insurers were still paying out for a fire in Mt Barker three years ago.

To cap off Dr van der Mye's problems, Energy Safety has also indicated it may pursue a prosecution based on its findings.

And the watchdog will be given more power to enforce recommendations to Western Power if amendments to the Gas and Electricity Safety legislation are successful in the Upper House.

Energy Safety director Albert Koenig said directives it issued following the Mt Barker fire may not have been adequately addressed.

Though Dr van der Mye said remedial work was carried out on sagging power lines in Western Power's Great Southern network, Mr Koenig said the extent and adequateness of the work was unknown.

The Mt Barker fire was found to have started in the same manner as in Tenterden.


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