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Byron Shire
July 23, 2024

Private waste system ‘risky’

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Luis Feliu

A Tweed councillor says a new standalone wastewater treatment system proposed for future housing development at west Pottsville would be useless in time of flood and power outages, as the failure of sewer pump stations around the shire highlighted this week.

And ratepayers would have to pick up the tab for maintenance of the private sewerage and water system if the company chosen to provide the service went bust, councillors were told.

Cr Gary Bagnall said residents of around half the shire were advised by the mayor this week to avoid flushing toilets or showering, to ease the load on sewerage pumping stations that had failed due to power blackouts.

Cr Bagnall said he has repeatedly warned Tweed Shire Council that the proposed treatment system was not sustainable as it used too much energy and only had a 24-hour power backup.

‘If the power is out for longer than 24 hours we have the same problem as we now have in Uki. Of course things could be worse than we have experienced this week,’ he told Echonetdaily.

Councillors last week voted 5–2 to endorse the Tweed Coast Wastewater Strategy to service future development, but Crs Bagnall and Katie Milne, who opposed the move, lost a bid to defer the issue till staff could evaluate other standalone wastewater systems, such as a scaled-down version of the Olympic Park model.

Their unsuccessful amendment also sought legal advice on the ‘structure and stability’ of the company chosen, as well as Council’s legal and financial liability if it ceased to exist.

The system, allowed under the new Water Industry Competition Act 2006, also provides for the use of recycled water for toilet flushing, laundry cold water and outdoor uses.

The company behind the strategy, Sirex Water Utilities, has formed a partnership, called Solo Water Pty Ltd, with the shire’s biggest single contractor, Solo Waste Recovery, run by businessman Idwall Richards.

Mr Richards is well known as the election-campaign ‘ringmaster’ for the pro-development bloc on Council, the National Party-aligned and -supported Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne.

Capacity

In his report recommending the system, council’s natural-resources director David Oxenham said that with the exception of the Tanglewood area near Bogangar, most zoned land in the catchment of the Hastings Point wastewater treatment plant had been developed and existing capacity there had to be kept for ‘anticipated’ infill development.

Mr Oxenham said the Tweed Urban Land Release Strategy and Employment Lands Strategy identified a number of areas in the west Pottsville area for development, which first had to be rezoned.

But he said, ‘an important prerequisite for rezoning is there being some certainty as to the disposal of wastewater from subsequent development’.

He said the use of recycled water for toilet flushing, laundry cold water and outdoor uses would reduce demand on Council’s water supply system.

Cr Milne said if the company behind the strategy collapsed, it would put Council in a ‘tricky situation’ and ratepayers would have to ‘pick up the pieces’.

She said she was concerned the strategy had been created by a developer ‘rather than Council’ and it was ‘light on detail’. She was not opposed to the system as such, but wanted a cost-benefit analysis on other systems.

Cr Bagnall said there were different types of standalone wastewater systems operating in the wider region, including Stradbroke Island and Woodford, used by thousands of people.

‘We’re just looking at one product and not a range, and that concerns me,’ he said.

But Cr Youngblutt said Council ‘can’t afford the capital cost of these sewer systems, but it can be done privately and I see it as very little risk’.

Cr Polglase said a recent workshop ‘adequately explained what the system is all about’.

Cr Byrne said she was sure due diligence on the operator would be done by Council but no-one has a crystal ball on how a company may operate in future.

Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily that recent statistics showed the shire’s growth rate ‘is now 0.45 per cent and there were many approved developments yet to be started.

‘We do not need any more land releases,’ he said.


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