Bangalow residents will need to demonstrate clearly their wishes for the town’s broken weir – and in much larger numbers – if they are to convince the council to spend money on the project.
That was the clear message from Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson at last night’s meeting between Bangalow residents and the council’s preferred engineers for the project.
Around 30 residents turned up to the meeting, which was called at short notice after council almost reneged on a promise to talk to the community before making a decision on the weir’s future.
A motion at last month’s council meeting to simply remove the weir and place remnants on a plinth in the park was withdrawn at the last minute and replaced by a one from Cr Rose Wanchap to consult.
Last night’s meeting failed to take any binding motion, after a couple of suggestions were knocked back, but agreed to embark on a wider survey of Bangalow’s community.
Consultant Damien Cavanagh told the meeting there were no impediments to demolishing the weir, despite the effect of dropping water levels on a nearby colony of platypus, as the amphibians are plentiful in the region and would likely relocate if the future creek height was unsuitable for them.
He did say, however, that the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) would require a construction of a fishway if a repair or replacement was to be undertaken.
This argument was disputed by local engineer Tony Baggio, who at last year’s meeting of the group presented an option to fix the weir for less than $50,000.
Mr Baggio said that the regulations surrounding the requirements for fishways clearly showed that one was not called for in the case of a simple repair, potentially saving $100,000 or more.
But that interpretation was disputed by Michael King, council’s manager of infrastructure planning, who said DPI had been consulted since the outset of council’s investigations and had made it clear a fishway would be required as part of the works.
Matthew Gordos from DPI Fisheries, who was not present last night but attended the previous meeting, confirmed this according to Echonetdaily’s account of that meeting.
Much debate then followed about the nature of repair versus replacement and whether a simple repair could avoid the need to build a fishway.
Western wall erosion
Structural engineer Alan Barham then addressed the meeting, explaining the four options, which essentially are three possible heights for a new/repaired weir (0.9m, 1.2m or the previous 1.5m), or the removal of the remainder of the weir with the creek returning to ‘natural flows’.
The cost in construction and fees would range from $190,000 to more than $400,000, depending on the height and type of construction, he said. Even the cost to simply remove the remnants of the weir would be in the vicinity of $100,000
Mr Barham added that the eroding effect of lower levels of water over a long period on the base of the western wall of the old pool could not be predicted and that it might also require attention in future if the weir was not reinstated.
A weir height of 1.2 metres would be required to ensure the long term survival of the western wall, he said.
Mr Baggio was then given time to speak and again handed out copies of his plan, which he had costed at $50,000 to construct. He made light of one of the engineer’s plans involving gabion structures, which he said was only included ‘to humour me’.
He said the use of gabion wire without a coating surface such as he proposed would soon see the weir wall ‘full of weeds’.
Mayor Simon Richardson clearly expressed his view that the weir’s time had come and that a ‘return to natural flows’ (weir removal) was the only sensible and cost-effective option.
He said that while he understood the fond memories people had of swimming carnivals at the weir pool, those days had gone and council would be better to focus any funds it had on a new heated pool at the Bangalow sports ground.
His question to Mr Barham about the height of the pool after weir removal returned the answer ‘about a metre’.
Mayor Richardson’s views were echoed by Cr Duncan Dey, who added that as a hydrologist he would prefer to see the creek returned to its natural state, while agreeing even this potentially contained hidden costs as proper geotechnical advice has yet to be sought.
Cr Sol Ibrahim said council should explore the most inexpensive option to raise levels for aesthetic and community values.
‘We need to bring water up to a sufficient level that we won’t have to spend money on the western wall. The more we call it repair and maintenance, the less likely the [fishways] act will come into force,’ he told the meeting.
Cr Paul Spooner said council needed to ask the question if a simple repair could do the job as Mr Baggio suggested.
‘The question that Tony raises is that it only needs repair. If we don’t have that information, we’re not comparing apples with apples. I don’t think anyone on council wants to see things stalled because questions aren’t answered,’ he said.
Cr Basil Cameron said that the Bangalow community really needed to get agreement on what it wanted for the weir.
Members of the audience wanted to know if volunteer labour and donated materials could be involved, as they were with the initial construction.
Mr King said it was possible but not easy.
‘There are processes and costs associated with community and council working together. We can’t have a work site with uneducated people without OH&S training but it can be done.’
Convenor Mick O’Reagan asked members of the audience what they would like to see happen to the weir and why. All said they would like it retained, most for aesthetic, heritage and tourism reasons, rather than to see swimming carnivals return.
On closing the meeting, Mr O’Reagan suggested the group reach out to the community to establish what the view of townspeople more generally was of the weir and if and why they wanted it retained.