Who signed off on the deal? This is the question that no one seems to want to answer regarding the sale of water from the Woolgoogla Dam in Newmans Road.
Prior to Christmas a deal was formed between Coffs Harbour City Council and a local blueberry farming company for the sale of water from the dam. Concerns were raised by Coffs Coast locals, Councillor Sally Townley and Labor spokesperson Tony Judge which lead to the NRAR (Natural Resources Access Regulator) confirming that the deal breached the licence held by the Council for the water use.
Triple M and others posed a range of questions prior to Christmas to the Council, the Mayor, and all councillors about the situation, but still have not been able to get a written response from Coffs Harbour City Council to those questions.
On the afternoon of Wednesday 8 January, the Coffs Harbour City Council announced that there would be an extra ordinary meeting to be held on Monday 13 January at 5pm to discuss the matter.
This meeting however will be to ask for sign off so as to essentially move the goal posts for the council’s current licence.
In the motion named to come from Mayor Knight, Cr Swan, Cr Adendorff, Cr Amos and Cr Cecato, their intention is that Coffs Harbour City Council, “as a matter of urgency make application to the NSW Department of Primary Industry and Environment to amend the “purpose” for which the Water Access Licence (WAL) No. 36672 and Approval number 30CA308020 in respect of Woolgoolga Dam are held such that the Licence and Approval allow the permitted use to include agriculture / irrigation.”
Council are also asking that councillors vote to “undertake a community information/awareness program to provide relevant information to the community.”
Whether you agree with the sale/release of the water or not, the question still remains, who in Coffs Harbour City Council signed off on the sale of the water without checking that it was legal to use for agriculture?
Editors note: Other pertinent questions might also include was fair potential access to the water also given to other horticultural, pastoral and other businesses?
Additionally was a proper tender process followed?
If those who signed to release the water were not legally authorised to do so, and/or that may also be the case for those who may have in turn authorised them to do so, then what might be the situation in relation to their future employment status?
These are a questions that many Coffs Harbour locals have been asking in recent weeks.
The above is based on a story published by Triple M Coffs Coast on Wednesday 8 January 2020. See; https://www.triplem.com.au/story/council-call-extra-ordinary-meeting-after-water-blunder-153717
The following conversation occurred on 21 December 2019 between Cr Sally Townley and the Editor of The Coffs Coast Outlook on Cr Townley’s Facebook site;
The following story was written by Janine Watson and published by The Coffs Coast Advocate on 7 January;
“Council has been told in no uncertain terms: the sale of water from Woolgoolga Dam to Costa Berries is illegal.
But with the industry due to run out of water in a matter of weeks Coffs Harbour City Council is scrambling to find other ways to assist.
Director Sustainable Infrastructure Mick Raby says council is in daily contact with the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) to see what can be done to help local farmers.
Council’s water access licence for the dam states water is for town use, defined as ‘domestic or stock’ purposes, and this does not extend to the horticultural industry for irrigation.
“What NRAR have said is that potentially the best way around this is to request a change in use under our licence.”
The following story, also written by Jannine Watson, appeared on page 5 of The Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 4 January last;
Labor spokesperson for Coffs Harbour Tony Judge (pictured below) says the community is losing confidence in Coffs Harbour City Council.
Mr Judge, who was a public servant for almost 30 years before retiring to the region, is referring to council’s plan to sell water from the Woolgoolga Dam to Costa Berries.
The plan was revealed in a Council press release before Christmas, which referred to changes in State Government regulations which could potentially make the dam non-compliant.
But critics of the plan say this is just the ‘Trojan Horse’ subterfuge behind the sell-off, with the regulations only coming into force in November last year with council having up to two years to meet any new requirements.
Mr Judge has slammed Council for the lack of transparency and accountability over their handling of the matter.
“In a drought there will always be competing demands for water. Farmers are doing it tough and they need water to keep their businesses alive,” Mr Judge said.
“Firefighters need water to deal with current and future fires and local people need a clean, reliable water supply for their immediate and future needs. Those competing demands need to be met in a clear, transparent and accountable way if ratepayers are to have any confidence that Council is managing water in our best interests.”
He says the recent deal has destroyed the community’s confidence in council and that urgent action is needed to restore it; and in the longer term there could be a case for an independent inquiry.
“We need to know more about both the Woolgoolga Dam decision and the sale of town water, because it appears that decisions are being made by Council officials without any involvement by our elected representatives.
“As a former long-term public servant, I find that lack of accountability particularly disturbing. When unelected officials start making those types of decision independently, we have a real problem with our democratic system.”
He says the deal raises several questions and the community needs answers now.
“Are Councillors happy that they, our elected representatives, first heard of it as a done deal through a media release? Was the Mayor or Acting Mayor aware of the deal before it was released? Why was there no community consultation before the decision was made? Was there an Environmental Impact Statement before the deal was done?”