Dust-up with Shire as grapes lost

Michael TraillNarrogin Observer
Mr Hayes said his Downderry Wines’ vineyard harvest was ruined by Shire of Narrogin trucks carting gravel on Graham road last year.
Camera IconMr Hayes said his Downderry Wines’ vineyard harvest was ruined by Shire of Narrogin trucks carting gravel on Graham road last year. Credit: Michael Traill

Downderry Wines owner Rex Hayes says he could be forced to close his business if the Shire of Narrogin does not order its trucks to slow down after losing the majority of his 2019 harvest.

Mr Hayes claims that gravel being carted along Graham Road — which runs parallel to his 4ha vineyard — by Shire of Narrogin trucks smothered his 8000 vines in dust during the second half of last year.

In 2018, the award-winning Narrogin vineyard produced 18.5 tonnes. This year it produced 1.6 tonnes.

Mr Hayes said he had approached the Shire a number of times since the alleged dusting incident at Downderry Wines in July, looking for a pledge for them to slow down their trucks to stop his vines being covered by dust.

“All I want is them to slow their trucks down, which will eliminate the dust,” he said.

“I need a letter from the Shire, of commitment that they’re going to slow down to 20km/h.”

Mr Hayes conceded his vineyard was hit with frost in November of last year, an event which would have likely resulted in a nine to 10 tonne harvest this year.

However he insisted the dust from Graham Road ruined his harvest.

“It clogs the pores of the leaf, then the vines don’t breath and don’t photosynthesise. No plant can go without that,” he said.

The issue was first brought to the old Shire of Narrogin in 2014, after the quartz road was laid in 2013.

“If the trucks were transporting anything then, (former chief executive) Geoff McKeown made sure none of us were inconvenienced with dust at all,” Mr Hayes said.

According to Mr Hayes, the Shire of Narrogin — before it merged with the Town of Narrogin — would send out water trucks on request to minimise dust emitted from Graham Road.

Without a commitment from the Shire to slow down their trucks, Mr Hayes said the business he has owned since 1997 would be forced to close.

“I can’t grow the grapes. What’s the sense of me preparing the vineyard? he said.

“If they don’t slow down I’ll be saying the same thing next year.”

Shire of Narrogin chief executive Dale Stewart said last month an assurance was sent to Mr Hayes, in writing, that Shire trucks drivers would be issued “instructions” from “time to time” when carting gravel along Graham Road.

“The Shire denies any liability with respect to the assertion that dust from Shire trucks have caused damage to his grape production,” he said.

“This notwithstanding and without expressing any negligence on our part, the Shire has empathy for his circumstances and values the continued operation of his viticulture activities and tourist business.”

Last week gravel was re-sheeted along Graham Road.

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