Tweed’s long-term water supply strategy remains in limbo after councillors narrowly voted to ban building a dam at Byrrill Creek for 20 years but rejected what the mayor calls the obvious move to boost supply by raising the existing Clarrie Hall Dam wall.
Mayor Barry Longland yesterday used his casting vote to push through Cr Dot Holdom’s motion for the ban, but failed to get support for the dam-wall raising to kickstart the shire’s stalled water-supply augmentation plan.
The on-again, off-again issue of whether the Tweed needs a new dam is set to dominate September’s council election and pro-dam councillors have already vowed to overturn the ban.
Cr Longland, who soon after becoming mayor last year used his casting vote to overturn a previous decision to build the controversial new dam at Byrrill Creek, again used his casting vote this week to kill off the plan after the vote was tied 3–3.
Cr Joan van Lieshout earlier left the room for the debate and vote, stating her previous reason that because her family owns land adjoining the proposed dam site, there could be a perceived conflict of interest, even though she believed she didn’t have one.
Cr Longland said the ban on Byrrill Creek dam was only ‘half the issue’ and raising the Clarrie Hall dam wall was ‘all about long-term water security for the Tweed’.
He said staff planners needed ‘some surety’ to proceed with the augmentation plan and raising of Clarrie Hall dam wall was the original recommendation of a community working group and a process debated for five years.
‘There’s been heaps of consultation on this; the dam wall raising came out from that process as the least expensive option with the least environmental impact: the Clarrie Hall dam option is the obvious way to go,’ he said.
Dam supporters Crs Warren Polglase, Kevin Skinner and Phil Youngblutt argued that Cr van Lieshout should have been allowed to vote on the mayor’s move to combine the ban on the new dam with the raising of the Clarrie Hall Dam, saying the two issues were separate.
But Cr Longland said they were one and the same, and Cr van Lieshout did have a conflict as she could not vote for one option yet stand against another.
On other occasions when the issue arose, Cr van Lieshout has remained in the chamber and voted against raising the dam wall, while abstaining from the Byrill Creek debate.
Cr Longland said that when Cr Skinner was mayor, Cr Skinner had used his casting vote to ‘substitute’ the Byrrill Creek option over the Clarrie Hall option that had already been decided on.
That move sparked a community outcry and the Save Byrrill Creek campaign but, on becoming mayor last September, Cr Longland used his casting vote to stop planning on the dam.
However, Cr van Lieshout then foiled the Clarrie Hall option by returning to the chamber to vote it down, leaving the water supply issue in limbo.
On Tuesday, Cr Polglase said if the Clarrie Hall dam move succeeded, it would be a ‘14-week wonder’ as a new council could rescind it after September’s election.
Cr Katie Milne said she would not support any dam option as other water-saving methods that could negate the need for a dam, such as dual reticulation, were not being explored.
‘We should have a dams-avoidance strategy at all costs,’ she said.
Cr Dot Holdom said the community working group had recommended the Clarrie Hall option to augment existing water supply and ‘we’ve wasted 19 months’ in making a decision if that did not go ahead.
She said the shire had grown by more than 30,000 people since 2002–03 when the area was in drought, ‘and how do we supply those people if we have a drought next year?’
The vote to combine the Byrrill Creek dam ban with the Clarrie Hall dam-wall raising option was lost 2-4 (Crs Longland and Holdom for) when Cr Milne joined pro-dam councillors to shoot it down.
They then voted on Cr Holdom’s original motion for the Byrrill Creek dam ban.
Afterwards, Cr Longland said he was disappointed Cr Milne had helped reject the exisiting dam wall option as ‘the dam is already there, and the wall by law has to be widened so it makes sense to do it’.
He said the current stalemate ‘doesn’t help resolve the issue about what we do for long term water security’.
Cr Holdom told ABC radio the state government would not allow a new dam anyway.