Saturday’s Tweed council election is being touted as a referendum on a new dam.
The controversial push to build a new dam at Byrrill Creek, which would cost ratepayers around $100 million, has surfaced as the main agenda platform for the bloc of five conservative groups trying to win a majority on Tweed Shire Council.
Conservative, National Party-aligned councillors Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Kevin Skinner have all along pushed for the new dam in the past term of council, but were thwarted by Crs Katie Milne, Barry Longland and Dot Holdom.
Opponents of a new dam either want the existing Clarrie Hall Dam wall raised to boost capacity or water-saving and recycling measures adopted to negate the need for increased storage.
Pre-poll voting opened last week, giving voters a chance to see where their vote would eventually go, with preference deals outlined in candidates’ how-to-vote cards.
It’s become clear that of the vital 12 above-the-line candidate groups, two main blocs or alliances of five groups each have been formed, each desperate to win at least four of the seven seats on council and effective control to pursue their agendas.
On the no-dams side is the community/Greens/Labor alliance of Group E led by mayor Barry Longland, Group G led by Labor’s Michael Armstrong, Group H led by the Greens’ Katie Milne, Group K led by Eddie Roberts and Group L led by Gary Bagnall.
The conservative, pro-dams alliance consists of the groups led by Cr Polglase (B) and Cr Youngblutt (D), Cr Skinner’s group C led by Jayne Henry, Bruce Campbell’s Group I, and businesswoman Carolyn Byrne’s Group F, which benefits from their preferences.
The five groups are mentioned in a recent full-page newspaper advertisement authorised by Cr Polglase supporting a plan for, among other things, ‘affordable rates’ and retaining council land at Byrrill Reek for the new dam.
The two unaligned groups of Kaye Sharples (A) and Cr Dot Holdom (J) are both outspoken against building a new dam, saying it would lead to higher rates.
Cr Holdom yesterday said she’d ‘had enough’ of all the pre-election talk ‘about a big, new, dam at Byrrill Creek; it’s a white elephant that will torpedo the council coffers and lead to higher rates’.
‘Anyone who says they’re going to build a big new dam while lowering rates is having themselves on. We do not want to become a southern dormitory suburb of Brisbane,’ she said.
Mrs Sharples said $100 million of ratepayers’ money spent on a new dam will increase rates and ‘rob the Tweed of essential services’.
Meanwhile, as the Tweed shire election campaign enters its final week, one candidate has resorted to fearmongering to boost his chances.
Cr Youngblutt, the oldest candidate and nearing 80 years of age, is famed for calling voters ‘morons’.
Despite announcing his retirement earlier this year, he said he would run again because he ‘feared’ a Green-dominated council. He has often used the adjective ‘extreme’ to describe the Greens.
On his how-to-vote pamphlet, Cr Youngblutt describes Group G (Labor) and H (Greens) in bold colourful type with the word ‘Danger!!’
He also blamed the Greens for lodging a complaint with council about his illegal placards on nature strips and public places.
Cr Youngblutt even went so far to allege an ‘extreme Green element’ in the council’s planning department had acted quickly on the complaints.
But the first candidate to officially complain about the posters was his ally, Cr Polglase, who issued a rare press release only hours before Tweed Council announced late last week that it would crack down on illegal posters and remove them.
Cr Longland was upset his posters had been pulled down, saying, ‘somebody has complained vexatiously and one would ponder who that might be; I think it is most unfortunate and vindictive almost for people to be complaining about this’.
Cr Polglase claimed that ‘certain candidates’’ signs were removed this week whilst other candidates’ signs have been left, which gives a perception to the community that the bureaucracy is favouring certain candidates’.
Council general manager David Keenan said that apart from being unsightly, ‘signage on trees, beside our roads and near shopping centres can represent a hazard for motorists’.
Mr Keenan said council does not permit unauthorised, commercial-based signs on public land, including political advertising, commercial advertising, A-frames and electronic flashing boards.
‘We want to protect our shire’s visual amenity by ensuring our trees, roadsides, footpaths and public spaces are not cluttered with advertising material,’ he said.
Candidates putting signage or other promotional material on public land face fines of up to $200 per sign.
Letters have been sent to candidates whose signs have been impounded but can be collected without penalty.
Surrounding councils at Byron, Lismore and Ballina have all taken action to impound signs from public places.
caption: One of the many unsightly election posters on Terranora Road, Banora Point, pictured on Friday afternoon. The signs are a distraction and safety hazard for motorists, according to council.