THE farmer who owns the land Metgasco wants to drill its test well on at Bentley says a confrontation with protesters at the site several weeks ago left him shaking.

In an interview with Sydney radio station 2UE, Peter Graham - a former Lismore councillor and National Party member - said he had reached the point where he tried to avoid encountering the protesters.

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"Early last week I was in the face of five of them, my parents were in the face of a couple of them and the verbal attacks that were put onto us there and then - look, honestly, it left me shaking," he said in the interview, which was aired on Saturday.

Mr Graham defended his decision to allow Metgasco access to his land. He agreed he would be paid for that access, but the money involved was 'not enough to keep the bank away'.

He said he and his family had looked closely at the issue with geologists and hydrologists and 'they guarantee us that there is not an issue'.

"There's a bigger play at stake here and we've got over 4000 wells in Queensland that are operational and those 4000 wells haven't had a problem to this day yet - not a problem that has been justified to a well," he said.

"There's plenty of hearsay and that's all these others can come up with. The Drew Huttons of the world - that's all they can come up with is maybes and potentials."

Asked by the presenters if he was "at the point of giving in" to the protesters, Mr Graham responded: "No. If anything we're getting stronger."

POLICE operations at the Bentley blockade may not start until next week at the earliest if the cancellation of extended stay motel bookings by NSW Police last week are anything to go by.

Several motels in Casino and Lismore which had bookings for police arriving in the region for the Bentley blockade were cancelled at short notice.

A Lismore motel with a seven-room booking from March 30 to April 7 was cancelled.

DriAt least two more motels, with police bookings of up to 16 rooms combined, had late notice cancellations of the March 30 to April 11 reservations.

The Northern Star spoke to one Casino motel owner who was told heavy rain, of up to 180mm, meant the two-week operation was called off, because the drill rig was unable to be moved out of Queensland to the Bentley site.

"I don't think they can get this great gadget here until it stops raining," he said.

However, the late cancellations have not been of concern to the motel owners, who all said it was par for the course in the motel industry.

"It's not their fault," said one.

"I've been in this game 20 years and every phone call could be a cancellation or another booking."

"I'm really happy with the police - they've been really good to me."

Night moves by police

BENTLEY blockaders saw a police rescue vehicle arrive at 3am yesterday, said Adam Guise from Gasfields Free Northern Rivers.

The prospect of a night time police operation had not been discounted.

"A number of us worry that if the police were under pressure to dismantle the blockade, they would undertake such action," Mr Guise said.

Protesters have also cited reports of police assembling at the Tuncester rifle range, and heavy earthmoving equipment being moved past the site, accompanied by police escorts.

"This indicates they are practising in preparation for the big day," Mr Guise said.

"In the interest of public safety and respect for the Northern Rivers people, the police should give a clear indication of when they intend to force entry into the drilling site," he said.

"If they act beyond their powers, they risk a counter lawsuit from the people."

My morning at the blockade

IT WAS still dark when I drove into the Bentley camp just before 5am yesterday.

I was directed to park my car further down from the camp.

Everything seemed so well organised.

As I started walking through the camp, there was quite an eerie atmos-phere, with everyone walking quietly towards "Gate A", where the big gathering was happening.

I was walking along with a young family man. His wife and children couldn't make it, so he came before work to show his support.

People from all walks of life have been gathering at Bentley - from the farmer down the road to the doctor in town, mums, dads and children, hippies and musicians.

Everyone says they are here to protect the land. There are a few speeches, some singing and dancing.

 

By 7am the crowd has started to disperse. Some of the protesters will stay at the Bentley camp while others head off to work.

- Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Monday morning at the Bentley Blockade. Photo : Mireille Merlet-Shaw/The Northern Star
Monday morning at the Bentley Blockade. Photo : Mireille Merlet-Shaw/The Northern Star Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Space for more campers at Bentley

AN APPLICATION to expand the number of campers at Bentley from 200 to 2500 - more than 10 times the number currently permitted - will be submitted to Richmond Valley Council today.

Protest organisers are also seeking approval for a fully- fledged commercial kitchen and for commercial food businesses to operate on site, potentially transforming the camp into a "mini-festival".

The original application for the camp, located on the private land neighbouring the planned Rosella well site, allowed for only 200 campers and no commercial kitchen facilities.

But Adam Guise, Gasfields Free Northern Rivers spokesman, said those approvals were ambiguous because there was approval for a kitchen space on the site plans.

Lately the camp has been inundated by donations of food from businesses in Lismore, Casino, and from many individuals.

"There's an influx of people all the time delivering food from homemade soups, fruits and vegies, packets of biscuits, tea and coffee … bakery items, and homemade quiches," Mr Guise said.

Without a fully-functional kitchen with refrigeration facilities the camp organisers have had to ask donations to stop, because it can't preserve the food.

Mr Guise said the camp was hopeful the application would be approved promptly.

"We have satisfied the primary concerns of council around road safety and hygiene," he said.

Mr Guise said the new application might allow market stalls with appropriate health standards approvals to be invited on to the site on busy days to allow visitors to feed themselves properly.

But he said the camp would not be turning into a "Bluesfest-style" event with a focus on partying rather than working.

"People know they are here to volunteer, to protest against invasive gasfields," he said.



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