Local, Politics

“Give fire victims a fair go”_ Orara Valley Action Group to Council

The Orara Valley Action Group (OVAG) is tonight calling upon the Coffs Harbour City Council to rescind parts of the motion passed in relation to Federal Government fire money allocation in the initial Program of Works passed at their February 13 2020 Council Meeting.

OVAG spokesperson Helen Schlangenotto said “many of the the Orara Vallley community cannot understand why Coffs Harbour City Council is so reluctant to rescind the motion and return to the Community to reassess all the projects in the initial Program of Works that has already been passed
unanimously on 13th February and consult with bushfire-impacted residents about what they need immediately”

The Liberation valley fires that then swept through the Orara Valley last November 12 has left many residents needing direct personal assistance from the Government Fire Relief Fund according to OVAG

OVAG believes the whole intent of this $1.3m Fed Govt grant is stated in its title: IMMEDIATE FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR BUSHFIRE AFFECTED COMMUNITIES.

Instead Ms Schlangenotto said “Council seems to want to insist on their Bushfire Recovery Plan and blatantly ignore what the Community wants.

In true community spirit many Nana Glen residents would forego solar panels and air-conditioning for the Nana Glen Hall estimated at $70,000 or a
Community Led Recovery Event at a cost of $50,000 in favour of helping fellow bushfire-impacted residents restore access to their properties, clean-up their properties and remove burnt-out trees, repair fences or undertake more bush regeneration.

Or even hopefully make a start on finally sorting out a conflict between Crown Lands and Council on an access bridge that prevented RFS
crews from fighting the fires.” These were some of the projects in the 1st allocation of funding totalling $416,784.

A meeting with the Mayor on 26th March, where 150 signatures calling for a ‘rescind’ motion on the first interim Program of Works passed unanimously by all councilors. A second bushfire meeting on 11 March unanimously the same motion as was on the petition presented to the Mayor.

Numerous homes in the Valley were destroyed or damaged last November 12

However, those attending the second meeting were given to understand that the 1st Program of Works could not be rescinded and no further discussion on the matter was possible.

OVAG believes that when the facilitated 2nd Recovery Meeting took place on 11th March, residents clearly chose projects that would provide “immediate assistance.”

Things such as, roads and restoration of property access (Replacement of McPhersons Bridge Nana Glen worth $250,000), more support for RFS/Emergency Services into the future.

Namely ten hardstand sites for RFS water access at $250,000, turnaround bays for emergency vehicles at $70,000, preparedness/planning going forward in an upgrade of safe spaces at $200,000 and environmental restoration and recovery via an Environmental Recovery Program at $200,000.

These 5 projects now form part of Councils 2nd allocation of Bushfire Recovery Funds to be considered tonight totalling $983,216.

While the bushfire affected Community welcomes this ‘breakthrough’ and supports this 2nd allocation of funds which is on the table tonight, community dissatisfaction remains high regarding the first allocation of $416,784.

“Members of our community were fighting for their lives on that night of the 12th November and to ignore their voice now is so disrespectful of Council” Ms Schlangenotto stated.

OVAG believes it was clearly not the intention nor the spirit of the Federal Government Bushfire Recovery Grant to pay for refurbishments to a community preschool, registered as state-owned and run by a not-for-profit incorporated entity.

“Bushfire affected residents are paying for a project that was on CHCC’s agenda” Ms Schlangenotto said.

Image result for Helen Schlangenotto
Helen Schlangenotto. Photo; Trevor Veale, Coffs Coast Advocate, via Google Images

OVAG believes that by diverting funds away from bushfire affected residents CHCC is in a sense asking them to pay for the refurbishment of Lower Bucca Preschool at $78,784.

The Preschool had applied for funding in the 2019/2020 Community Capital Infrastructure Grants Program. They had been unsuccessful pending further evaluation of redevelopment of the site by Council’s Logistics
Section in the coming 2020/2021 financial year. (Ref Agenda Council Meeting 25/7/2019).

“Little wonder that the community said ‘No’ to the pre-School funding proposal as they believe it doesn’t qualify”. It was 10km from the fire-zone, it wasn’t burnt or damaged and didn’t even provide shelter for RFS crews” said Ms Schlangenotto.

“If CHCC decided it did not qualify for a Community Capital Infrastructure Grants Program in July 2019, why and how does it now qualify for Bushfire
Recovery Funds?”

Nevertheless, it seems so far we have failed to convince Council of the need to listen to bushfire victims who want to have a say in how their Bushfire Recovery Funds are spent.

OVAG is of the view that Council is dividing the Nana Glen community through their current handling of the Bush Fire Relief funds.

By amending or rescinding the 1st interim Program of Works passed on the 13th February and included in this Agenda item tonight along with the 2nd allocation, CHCC will be able to return these funds to the Federal Govenment Bushfire Recovery Grant.

This will enable reallocation according to the priorities established at the 2nd Bushfire Recovery Meeting. Tackling these issues with these
funds will not only provide vital and immediate assistance but will surely be the first step on the road to recovery for these residents who faced and fought the fire.

All we are asking for from Council is a voice, a ‘fair-go’ and the assurance that these funds will go to those members of our Orara Valley community who faced the Liberation Trail fire on 12th November last year and survived. We have to help them as much as we can on their hard road to recovery!

We ask Council to respond to our community’s wishes” Ms Schlangenotto said.

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The above is a Press Release from OVAG, Thursday 26 March 2020.

3 Comments

  1. Connie Seward

    Well said Helen , the Lower Bucca Preschool project was rejected by council on 27.7.19. In the capital infrastructure community grants.
    No funding could be approved to renovate any buildings on site until the evaluation takes place to determine the use of all the buildings on the site in to the future Redeveloping the site. 20/21. It is quite obvious this project commenced well before the Bush fires. They were after $44000 50% of total $88000.
    It didn’t qualify by council.
    So now $78000 from Bush fire funds are to go to project that doesn’t meet the bushfire funding for immediate recovery programs requirements. The preschool is in the old Bucca Primary School over 100 years old. Last remaining landmark defining the area.
    I am sure local residents would not want this removed or destroyed.
    A wonderful preschool set in a magical forest garden. Deserving of funding like all preschools but from the right channel. Not from bushfire recovery grants.
    There are many scattered throughout the vallley, Glenreagh,Nana Glen,Coramba, Lowana ,Ulong,Molten etc. Still looking at the debris some washed away with their fences, wondering if they will see some change after 4 months.. businesses who have stood by us now facing closure.
    Prioritise and get on the ground action happening. Many property owners, businesses and residents and firefighters in the valley are still trying to cope and work their way through the horrendous fires. Then the floods impacting areas not burnt and the fire ravaged areas, now the corona virus causing more challenges heartache and despair. Reallocation of the money from the preschool $78000 and $50000 from the party event, could help business local trades & services supporting those most vulnerable in our community.
    Additional hurt, frustration has resulted because of CHCCs management of the Bush fire relief funding in a way unintended by the Federal Government.

  2. John Murton

    I am firmly in support of OVAG

  3. Helen Schlangenotto

    Well said Connie! ….. Now, at the Council Meeting last Thursday night 26th March, 2 of the 8 councilors have listened. Sally Townley & the Mayor Denise Knight realised the unfairness of this decision and found a way to set it right! …… we thank you!

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