The first sod may not be turned on Tamworth's Dungowan Dam project before the next federal election.
At a press conference on Thursday, Water Minister Melinda Pavey refused to even give a timeframe for the release of the fast-tracked project's business case.
"Because", she said.
Ms Pavey blamed a parliamentary inquiry, the coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Party, the Greens and her obligations under planning and environmental law for the delays.
Asked if construction would have started on the project by the federal election, which is due in May next year, Ms Pavey said there was no guarantee that it would.
"I hope so," she said.
"I'm not going to give a 100 per cent guarantee, we've still got to go through [environmental impact statement] processes, but that's our goal."
The minister refused to even give a timeframe for when the business case would be released for the project.
Asked why, she said "because".
"I don't think anything is fair at the moment. I've been dealing overnight with a young girl from my electorate that is dying in a hospital and she can't even have her parents touch her as she dies," she said.
Minister Pavey also conceded the dam would cost more than the $484 million initially estimated but doesn't have a final figure for the project.
Updated estimates have put the cost at over $800 million.
"It is more than was originally proposed. Like any project at the moment there are price escalation pressures, across any project," she said.
Whatever the cost, the minister said the government would build the dam.
Tamworth Mayor Col Murray said he was "naturally" disappointed by the delays.
"The reality is the project teams to do the geotechnical investigation, which are an integral part of the early design work for the dam were about to mobilise when COVID hit," he said.
"Just now [they] are remobilising again. They've lost a significant amount of time."
Minister Pavey said the NSW parliamentary upper house inquiry had added complexity and time to the job.
"If we'd have had our druthers we would have been in there on day one with our spade and shovel, but it's not that simple," she said.
"I think I've been pretty upfront and honest with the community on that all the way through."
The dam is among the state government's "fast-tracked" projects.
Inquiry chair and Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann said the business case delay was "good news".
"This is good news for all those in the community who have been warning of the negative impacts this dam would have on downstream communities, the environment and the taxpayer," she said.
"The water minister must now give the community certainty and rule out this dud of a project and get her department to focus on real solutions for water security in the area.
"The Government can't deliver a business because the project doesn't stack up, it's that simple."
Labor shadow minister for water Rose Jackson said the minister hadn't given an "adequate answer" as to why the business case was again delayed.
It's "just utter rubbish" to blame a parliamentary inquiry for the holdup, she said.
"That's just utter rubbish. We have parliamentary inquiries into projects all the time," she said.
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