Residents of a South Ballina caravan park have received eviction notices after the park owner was threatened with a possible million-dollar fine.
Glen Wright, owner of the Seabreeze Holiday Park, told Echonetdaily that he had no choice but to close the park after receiving a ‘show cause’ letter from Ballina shire council relating to him not upgrading the park’s sewerage system.
Mr Wright, who purchased the park nine years ago, said he had experienced ongoing problems trying to meet ‘more and more demands’ since taking court action against the council.
‘The previous owner was told to upgrade the sewerage system and it was a condition of the sale that the upgrade was completed,’ he said.
‘Once those conditions were met we settled on the park and took over in May 2005.’
Mr Wright said the council issued a five-year operating licence for the park prior to the purchase, indicating that all conditions had been met.
‘Once we took over we realised in a short space of time that we were having numerous problems with the sewer. Pumps were burning out and we started receiving penalty notices.
‘We ended up spending $100,000 to fix the sewer to keep operating but later found that a (council officer) had altered the engineer’s design, which led to a failure of the system.
‘Because we had spent $100,000 we sought compensation and took them to court. The (officer) denied in writing that he had altered the design but he admitted it in court and the council’s insurance company settled out of court.’
Mr Wright said the court action in 2012 was followed by further pressure from the council to upgrade the sewerage system following ‘a minor spill’.
‘At no time did anyone tell us they hadn’t inspected the park prior to issuing the licence,’ he said.
‘A council officer came out shortly after (the court action) and ordered another engineer’s report,’ Mr Wright said.
‘I got that and they wanted it upgraded so I got the contractors and the finance arranged and was ready to go.
‘But then the council started demanding that other things be addressed which made the project too expensive.
‘I was prepared to borrow money and upgrade the sewer however that was getting close to $400,000 alone, and then (the council) demanded that the bore water be upgraded to the latest drinking water standards, and that work be done on the roads.
‘The park simply doesn’t generate enough income to borrow that amount and to pay it back.
‘I attempted to negotiate with the council as they have discretionary powers and given the circumstances of them licensing the park without an inspection but they treated me like a mushroom.
‘My wife and I have been here for nine years and now we’re stuck with a business we cannot sell and the council has ignored repeated requests to provide us with a list of what is required to get a new unconditional licence.
‘The licence ran out in 2010 and they gave us an interim licence in 2012 which was conditional on us spending the $400,000 on the sewer.
‘We were just about to draw on the loan when we received the additional demands from the council’.
Mr Wright said a show cause letter from the council was the last straw.
‘The council sent us a letter to show cause why they shouldn’t proceed in the Land and Environment Court for failing to upgrade the sewer but we can’t upgrade the sewer and be left swinging in the breeze with regards to the licence.
‘They have threatened us with a million dollar fine and $120,000 a day for every day we trade after that,’ he said.
‘I sent the notice to my solicitor and he rang on Wednesday and said you have no choice but to shut down.
‘Today (Thursday) I handed out notices to residents telling them we have to shut by next Friday.
‘Put simply the council has forced me to react to their notice at the expense of residents and I very much doubt they will be able to get alternative accommodation by next week’.
BSC regulatory services manager Rod Willis told Echonetdaily the show cause notice was issued following failures at the sewerage treatment facility.
Mr Willis said Seabreeze had complied with a number of directions but had not met all conditions to qualify for an operating licence.
‘The council is attempting to get the caravan park properly licensed and as a separate matter dealing with the pollution event and the capacity of the plant to deal with waste water in the park, especially in wet weather.’
Mr Willis said the council had received a 33-point letter from Mr Wright which was being considered.