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Byron Shire
May 6, 2021

Is this a poll for a new dam?

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Luis Feliu

There’s a lot riding on tomorrow’s election for a new Tweed council, and the two competing blocs of candidate groups set to dominate the seven seats up for grabs know it.

Each bloc needs to win the magic four seats for a majority in order to push their vision of how the Tweed should evolve in its natural, built and social environment.

Roads, rates and rubbish are usually well looked after by council staff, without politicians intruding.

So what are the visions, or agendas, of these two blocs, and do they fit what most people love about living on the Tweed?

On one side are the community independents, Greens and Labor (the five groups headed by mayor Barry Longland, Cr Katie Milne, Labor’s Michael Armstrong, Gary Bagnall and Eddie Roberts).

On the other side are the conservative, National Party-aligned and business groups headed by Crs Warren Polglase and Phil Youngblutt, Bruce Campbell, Jayne Henry and Carolyn Byrne.

And the defining issue of this election is without a doubt the relentless push for a new dam, represented by the pro-development Polglase-Youngblutt-Henry-Campbell-Byrne groups.

This contentious pursuit for a new dam at Byrrill Creek continues, but also has a huge potential to divide the community.


It was divisive at the outset because the pro-development faction’s agenda went against a community-council consultation process costing almost $1 million which recommended the more cost-effective raising of the existing Clarrie Hall Dam wall to more than double capacity, as the way to boost water supply for future growth.

Cr Polglase led the council that was sacked in 2005 by the previous Labor government after an inquiry found candidates who had declared themselves independent had been funded by a developer slush fund.

Rules on election donations and funding rules have since been changed so developers cannot repeat the exercise.

Unfazed, Cr Polglase was re-elected in 2008 and even served another year as mayor.

But it was his faction’s tactical move to reject the staff and community working group recommendation and replace it with the costlier option of building a new dam that set the issue firmly on centre stage for any future council.

The pro-development councillors claimed it was all about water ‘security’, but the Clarrie Hall Dam option would have achieved that, so their argument, when we’re talking about a difference of tens of millions of dollars, rings quite hollow.

There is no way rates would not be driven upwards by a huge project that we don’t need at all: we’re talking about $100 million to start with.

Like the $1 billion Tugun desalination plant and other water ‘security’ projects pushed by conservative politicians everywhere, a new dam would become just a big hole in the ground for ratepayer money to disappear into.

White elephant

So think white elephants and flying pigs when this faction says we need a new dam to ‘secure’ our water supply.

The proposed Traveston Dam in Queensland was stopped by the federal government two years ago after taxpayers had footed out millions of dollars on it before it was ruled out of order on environmental grounds alone.

The Byrrill Creek dam could go the same way, especially when it’s in the foothills of world-heritage national parks and in one of the biodiversity hotspots of Australia.

Many residents old and new say they moved to the Tweed because they loved the green, open natural beauty and low-key lifestyles as opposed to the glitzy Gold Coast-style overdevelopment just across the border.

But the pro-development faction led by Cr Polglase somehow sees the shire as the poor country cousin of the Gold Coast, which could do with a lot more developments and resorts, just like up the road, to bring the jobs.

Yet in the past 10 years the Tweed’s had many major resort and housing developments promoted by them and approved, some built, yet none have proved to be the success they were originally touted as; some went bust and some are still to get off the ground.

They are the same ones who want this big new dam and have over the years pushed and promoted many divisive developments.

They wanted motor rallies to run in our national parks for the benefit of mostly Queensland audiences; they wanted extreme water sports near sensitive bird habitat on the Tweed River; they want denser and high-rise development in and around coastal villages, oversized housing estates with little controls to prevent decimation of koala populations, up-market caravan parks on precious remaining coastal dunal areas that are being rehabilitated, and the list goes on.

In other words, a vision of the Tweed becoming the Gold Coast’s natural playground and dormitory suburb.

A spokesman for this bloc, septuagenarian Cr Youngblutt, thinks he knows better, famously calling voters ‘morons’. Well, it’s up to these ‘morons’ now to decide the calibre of representation they want.

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