Council puts last minute freeze on water extraction plans
A LAST ditch effort to stop a controversial water extraction application has been successful, despite the plans getting the tick of approval.
Tweed Shire Council voted on Thursday 4-3 to approve a resubmitted development application lodged on behalf of Rowlands Creek Rd resident Jack Hallam, who plans to extract 24 megalitres of water a year from his property for commercial use.
While the decision to approve was met with angry cries from a full public gallery, the atmosphere in the chamber quickly turned when a rescission motion was submitted, putting an immediate halt to proceedings until the matter is dealt with at the next planning meeting in October.
Before the rescission motion was submitted, council's approval meant appropriate road works could begin on Rowlands Creek Rd and Kyogle Rd to improve the safety of water trucks travelling to and from Mr Hallam's rural property.
Despite initial community concern the road works would include removing part of the garden connected to the Uki War Memorial to widen the road, council staff decided "removing a section of the Cenotaph land to straighten up the angle of approach to Kyogle Rd may result in decreased safety" and would not be supported.
The application was previously deferred by council in November 2017 for further investigation over issues associated with traffic, road maintenance, environmental concerns and legal advice for councillors.
Mayor Katie Milne, who voted against the application, said it was important to allow for further assessment of the conflicting reports submitted by the applicant and the Tweed Water Alliance (TWA), a group that has strongly campaigned against water extraction in the shire.
"We have a responsibility to our community to ensure safety on our roads, to ensure water security for our residents and the safety of our lands," Cr Milne said.
"We've heard there are people reliant to the water in Rowlands Creek."
Cr Milne also warned approving Mr Hallam's application would set a "dangerous precedent" for similar applications in the future.
But Labor Councillor Reece Byrnes, who voted in favour of the approval, said it was council's responsibility to assess each application separately based on its individual merits.
"Last year we deferred (Mr Hallam's application) to get some information back on the traffic conditions and that also included an independent report on the hydrology," Deputy Mayor Byrnes told Tweed Daily News after the meeting.
"Both of those have come back and are saying this is okay. In this case it's one to go forward with.
"Our votes are on the truck movements, we obviously try to improve the truck's safety there but the (water) licensing system is dependant on the state."
But TWA spokesperson Jeremy Tager said he was "quite concerned" council and some councillors were not willing to look at further evidence submitted by TWA proving council's report was "filled with errors".
"The problem is that the staff and councillors don't have the inclination to read these documents is concerning," Mr Tager said.
"If they're going to make a decision with half-baked knowledge, then we've got a much bigger problem. This is the kind of thing that got a previous council fired."
Mr Tager said the Labor councillor should have acknowledged his party's affiliation with Mr Hallam, a former NSW Minister for Agriculture and Forestry during the Wran Government.
"Cr Byrnes has betrayed the people who voted him in," Mr Tager said.
"I'm also quite concerned he didn't announce a conflict of interest (with his association with Mr Hallam)."
But Cr Byrnes said he felt he didn't need to make the connection between himself and Mr Hallam and supported the application because "the report speaks for itself".
"People are allowed to have political views. If they want to say that that's great but I'll vote on the facts of what's put before me, that's the way it is," Cr Byrnes said.
The debate over water extraction has been a point of contention for many years, and council continues to deal with various applications relating to the issue.
Council is defending its decision to limit the size of water transport trucks travelling to and from a water extraction facility run by the Karlos family on their Urliup Rd property in Bilambil.
The case will be heard in the Land and Environment Court in Sydney next week.