Local, Science/Environment

Extraordinary Council meeting to discuss Woopi water sale called for Monday 13 January

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.

An aerial view of Woopi Dam in Newmans Road.

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.”

See; https://www.coffscoastadvocate.com.au/news/on-the-hunt-for-water-to-keep-industry-alive/3915966/

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.

Labor Coffs Harbour spokesperson Tony Judge.

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?”

See; https://www.coffscoastadvocate.com.au/news/calls-for-urgent-action-and-inquiry-into-water-dea/3913041/

10 Comments

  1. I don’t have an issue with what ever use the water is put to, but all citizens should be concerned at the lack of transparency, the lack of due process and apparent lack of probity by the Coffs Harbour City Council Executive, who should have used the correct channels open to them and obtain permission to release any water.
    So far the Water Minister Melinda Pavey hasn’t issued any statement, which I think that she should have by now; if she has even cast her eye over this issue that is.
    For too often OUR Council, seem to take short cuts and go the route of expediancy, to suit themselves, believing that they are above rules and regulations; as this dam decision appears to have been another example.
    It is a bit rich for Councillors to attempt to cover up misdeeds by their Executives, that the GM should be taking responsibility for.
    He needs to own the decision and own up to what has taken place.
    We need to bear in mind, that the Minister at the end of the day may not agree with any motion the Council passes on Monday.
    In which case, Costas and anyone else will have to do a rain dance to find some water legally.

  2. Ron Richards

    “Mr Judge has slammed Council for the lack of transparency and accountability over their handling of the matter.”

    And pretty much everything else they do too from where I sit Tony!

    “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.”

    Even though I agree with you here Tony I’d argue the community lost confidence in this Council about 9 months ago at least. The list is getting long. Take the whole Civic Centre, waste management cost blow outs, constantly losing in the Planning Court, the City Square schmozzle and making life hard for the likes of Two Tails Winery issues just for starters.

    Council needs to be gone over with Dettol, carbolic soap and a wire brush in my humble opinion.

    Bring on the Council election. It’s time for a change.

  3. Alice in Wonderland

    Moving the goal posts it is. But this so called emergency meeting to “amend the purpose “ has plainly been called for no other purpose than to cover someone’s backside. Let’s now see if actions will once again be brought against CHCC by a large commercial enterprise that’s been duped.

    Have no doubt, this is a Council now in crisis.

    The relationship between management and our elected Councillors is not and never has been on a respectable footing. Councillors have been taken advantage of and disrespected all too often by an out of control authoritarian management. It’s now high time for our Councillors to bring to heel one or two individuals who believe they can act without accountability and without public engagement.

    Unless things now change, the people of Coffs Harbour will remain viewing our Council as nothing more than a bad joke.

  4. If you were a shareholder in a large private enterprise you might want to know that everything which was done by, or in the name of that enterprise, was above board and able to be perceived as such. If there was proof, or even a reasonable suspicion, of improper conduct by the management of the organisation, wouldn’t you want to see heads roll?
    “The Council”, an entity which encompasses both administrative employees and elected officials, and in which all Coffs ratepayers share an interest, is patently and consistently failing to behave in an appropriate manner.
    What do we do about it?
    We can appeal to a higher authority to investigate.
    Over 15 000 people asked the state government to look into the fiasco of the proposed civic centre (read as: new council chambers with attached art gallery etc.) and the (ir)relevant minister effectively dodged the issue.
    Our only practical recourse, as Ron Richards suggests, is to wait for the next election. Hopefully the current mob won’t do too much more damage in the interim.

    • Graeme Sheehan

      Yes, it’s about the right time for honest, committed and talented individuals who have no vested interests and the time and energy to serve their community to now give serious thought to serve on Council. I believe that with 2 possible exceptions, at least 7 seats need new occupants. In light of recent events the Coff’s community demands its Councillors are more proactive in delegated decision-making and have the capacity to rein in the perceived powers of the current management team.

  5. Whoopi Dooooo

    Who cares!!!!!

    Can’t drink or anyway.

    Charge the blueberry Industrie for it and make them pay handsomely before it evaporates.

  6. The comedy capers continue with CHCC.Only two councillors voted against the water for farming use.Actually Sally Townley looked gobsmacked at the approval and surprisingly Denise Knight voted against it as well.She has gone up one notch on the ladder!!.Why is this water not potable?We spent over $18 million on a water treatment plant at Karangi,can it not be treated?Unfortunately the blueberry industry(akin to a gold rush) is doomed with high cost of picking(even with cheap backpackers) and an oversupply and no reliable water supply.All this was predicted by a farmer/resident in Bucca creek years ago.Next our local member will be asking for subsidies for the blueberry industry to sustain it .Sadly the industry seems unsustainable with cheap imports and labour costs, but at least they have our CHCC water for a while to postpone the inevitable market forces.

    • Coffs Harbour resident

      Costa is a public company. Most of their shareholders live outside of the Coffs Harbour LGA.
      Coffs council has zero obligation to underwrite and support their business.

      • Exactly CH Resident. And just where does one draw the line in this regard? A precedent has been set by the Council now.
        And it is one that has the potential to come back and bite them on the bum. Time and time again.

  7. Agree completely CH resident ,Costa is a public company.I bet they wish they were a private company with their share price dropping by 64% in the last year .Always backing a winner CHCC!!

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