ABOVE: A home in Woodburn after the floods. Photo: Susanna Freymark
The length of a council meeting is determined by the weight of the agenda. As I enter the Richmond Valley Council Chambers and pick up an agenda, it feels heavy – very heavy. This will be a long meeting.
There were a lot of motions listed about the flood recovery – too many to mention them all here. The salient points were:
State Government Reconstruction Corporation
A Reconstruction Corporation was announced today by the Premier Dominic Perrottet. The corporation begins its work on July 1 and will be led by the Deputy Premier Paul Toole. An office will be set up in the local area.
There are seven councils in flood impacted areas and Richmond Valley Council is hoping there is a seat at the table for each council when the corporation begins its work.
Mayor Robert Mustow said all residents’ concerns need to be considered in the flood inquiry (separate to the corporation).
Flood recovery grants
Flood recovery grant money isn’t flowing into people’s pockets as quickly as it should be.
Mayor Mustow said the council was pushing for this.
At his meeting with the other mayors with Prime Minister Scott Morrison Mayor Mustow said he didn’t hold back.
“I said – ‘Get rid of the red tape and bullshit. I saw that with the fires.’
“Red tape is slowing things down.”
Both the mayor and general manager Vaughan Macdonald said the government had “thrown billions at the disaster”.
“There seems to be a hold-up getting it out,” Mayor Mustow said.
“They announce programs and there is a delay in getting them out there. Money needs to get out into the community quicker.”
Councillor Robert Hayes said no one had received the $20,000 flood recovery grant yet.
There have been 9000 applications and only 448 of those had been dealt with by Service NSW, Cr Hayes said.
“We’re pushing hard every day,” Mr Macdonald said.
The Business Recovery grants should be happening by the end of the month, he said.
“Bespoke programs for larger businesses were not available yet.”
Cr Hayes was concerned about people getting back into their homes.
“Woodburn needs people living back in their homes to invigorate the town.”
If businesses opened, they needed people there, he said,
This included the massive catchment area of Bungawalbin and how the water is or isn’t draining.
Should there be a levee at Coraki between the golf course and Petersons Quarry?
What impact did the Pacific Highway have on floodwaters?
Farmers at Iron Pot Creek have asked if water was released from Toonumbar Dam, causing the extra water flow.
Cr Hayes and Cr Patrick Deegan emphasised the need for a separate highway inquiry.
Bungawalbin resident Debra Johnston spoke at the beginning of the meeting about the flooding at Bungawalbin.
“Don’t forget Bungawalbin,” she said.
Some roads in Bungawalbin are still impassable.
During the first flood on March 1, Bungawalbin struggled to get help.
Council’s recovery officer Angela Jones said “there was frustration on our part to get a response” (from the RFS and SES).
We will be identifying that and looking at better ways to respond to flood events, she said.
Mr Macdonald said 90% of flood rubbish had been collected,
The goal was to have all Bungawalbin rubbish collected by the end of next week, he said.
April 30 is the deadline for all rubbish to be collected. If that deadline created an issue for people with unique circumstances, contact us, Mr Macdonald said.
“We are flexible, but we do need an end point.”
Mr Macdonald reminded residents that they didn’t have to wait for an insurance assessment to clean up. They just had to take photos of the flood damage.
Cr Deegan asked about the rate relief mentioned at a previous meeting.
“We wrote to the Premier for rate relief similar to the bushfires. The state government funded this so it doesn’t affect our revenue stream.”
Voluntary house raising
Mayor Mustow said they were getting a lot of inquiries about the voluntary house raising scheme in flood-prone areas.
A report on the scheme was almost finalised by the council in February and then the big flood hit.
The council will need to review the study to include the levels of the latest floods and complete new Floodplain Risk Management Plans for Casino and Mid-Richmond. This process could take a year and cost $200,000.
“We will have to adjust our model,” Ms Jones said.
“If we can incorporate knowledge from recent flood events we are 10 steps ahead.”
Cr Deegan and Cr Hayes wanted to officially thank staff and community volunteers for their efforts in the weeks after the floods. Mayor Mustow said he had already done that in the mayoral minutes, and Mr Macdonald had too.
Cr Deegan asked if it was appropriate for him to do another thank you.
“In my experience in local government, you can’t be thanked too many times,” Mr Macdonald said.
In non-flood news, there is the council financial report to peruse here.
At the beginning of the meeting Dr Richard Gates spoke about council’s investments and the need to steer away from investments that supported the fossil fuel industry.
Cr Deegan suggested council run a workshop to discuss its investments.
Two thirds – 67.1% – of the council’s direct investments have no connection to the fossil fuel industry.
“This has been bounced off the walls for many years,” Mayor Mustow said.
“If we can get the same products, we’ll take the non-fossil fuel fund, if it doesn’t cost the ratepayer more money.”
Watch the meeting online
If you want to watch the meeting in full – give yourself two and half hours or read the agenda.