Serious, fragile, inspiring. First council meeting since the floods

ABOVE: Woodburn Visitor Centre was flooded. Photo: Contributed

I did not attend this council meeting in person, instead I watched it live on the council’s Facebook page. I have not listed all items in the meeting’s agenda because the focus was on the floods and the work needed to recoverSusanna Freymark

Serious, fragile, inspiring.

These are not words I usually associate with a council meeting but at the March 15 Richmond Valley Council meeting, voices were quieter than usual as councillors and staff shared their flood stories.

The meeting was warm too as the stories revealed how council staff went “above and beyond” to help during the flood disaster.

Mayor Robert Mustow said it was a tiring time for the community.

“We have endured one of the longest droughts that led to bushfires that ravaged half of our council area. We had covid and now the community has been bought to their knees by floods,” he said.

His voice wavered when he spoke about the flood damage in the lower area of Richmond Valley.

“You have to see it to believe it,” he said.

He urged everyone to “stay strong, give each other a hug and we’ll come out stronger”.

Mayor Mustow spoke about his own experience during the floods.

“The enormity of this flood is beyond belief.

“I built a two-storey house at The Bend in 1980.”

 In the past 42 years, water has not entered the ground floor, he said. This time the fast-flowing floodwaters came up to two metres on the walls.

“We lost a horse – that hurt. The horse was part of our family for 17 years,” his voice breaking as he said it.

Mayor Mustow was relieved no one in the council area had died in the floods.

General manager Vaughan Macdonald said the council was focussed on remote areas so people still isolated could “get out.”

“The community has thanked us for what we are doing and how fast,” he said.

“We got Casino done quickly and we’ve moved into other towns to clean up. We’re working with Disaster Relief Australia.”

Mr Macdonald’s report about the flood damage assessment was included in the meeting’s minutes.

“The Richmond Valley has experienced unprecedented flooding over the past two weeks, with all  communities within the local government area being affected. Early estimates of the damage to community infrastructure and assets exceed $150 million and it is expected that the recovery process will take three years.”

The full report can be read here.

Mayor Mustow said the army presence had lifted people’s spirits.

There are two army camps in Casino of 1000 personnel. 500 of the ADF were based at the Evans Head aerodrome and some were using the Woodburn Bowling Club as a base.

Councillor Robert Hayes was clearly touched by what had happened in the Evans Head and Woodburn communities. He spoke about rescuing his daughter by boat from her Woodburn home at 2am.

Questions were asked about the state of the North Wall at Evans Head, the rail trail, project and the Casino pool development.

Contractors will be back working on the rail trail in two weeks and some contractors were already back at the swimming pool site – which was not damaged during the floods.

Emergency management officer Angela Jones gave a shout out to the staff who helped restore sewerage systems, water and roads.

“I went in a helicopter with the local commander and saw the devastation from the air,” she said.

“We landed in Woodburn  on a teeny bit of grass.”

Shower and toilet blocks will be arriving from Melbourne to the Woodburn and Broadwater communities from Thursday.

They will stay there for as long as they needed, Ms Jones said.

Help has come from other councils too. Coffs Harbour Council sent staff and Lake Macquarie Council had sent building surveyors, Mr Macdonald said.

In Casino, 400 businesses and homes were inundated, Mayor Mustow said.

“A lot was learned from the fires that will help with the recovery,” he said.

“We’ve had two kicks in the guts in three years.”

Robert Mustow said, through all this he has never been so proud to be mayor of Richmond Valley.

“We’ll get through this.

“We’ll stick together – united.”

For the flood recovery assessment and other agenda items go here.

Mayor Robert Mustow with a worker at Coraki helping with the flood response. Photo: Susanna Freymark

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