Byron Shire councillor Sol Ibrahim has found himself defending questions over a phone call he made to a potential tender applicant for the proposed rock wall at Belongil.
Council went into confidential session last Thursday to consider the tenders, all of which are well over budget.
Meanwhile the three landowners who stand to benefit most are yet to communicate with council on their intention to pay their share.
Yet the contentious project continues to stumble forward despite the withdrawal of state government funding, a lack of support from scientists and the need for council to raid funds from other budget areas to make it happen.
During an open part of the discussion, Cr Ibrahim admitted he had rung local contractor Angus Jackson to find out more information. ‘It was due diligence,’ he claimed to the chamber.
Mr Ibrahim said he did not realise Mr Jackson was a potential tender applicant at the time he made the call.
‘The question is whether I knowingly spoke with someone who is a tenderer,’ he said.
‘That is not what I did. In the course of that conversation he raised that. The conversation ended soon thereafter. However that was not the purpose of that conversation, nor did I raise the matter. So any suggestion that I was attempting in any way to participate or influence or be party to the quotations is just false. As I said in my email, I needed to see some advice; some technical information and advice about what we were about to decide upon today. In other words I was doing my research and due diligence.’
The Echo asked Cr Ibrahim why the information could not be sought from staff and he replied, ‘Angus Jackson (AJ) has been engaged by Byron Shire and has made presentations to councillors. When the report advised us that all the acceptable quotes were well over the budget, I wanted a second opinion on the scale of the WRL design. [For example] would a scaled-down version work and how long would it take to redesign?’
‘That was why I called. Staff are not qualified in this field and always rely on external consultants such as Angus Jackson. I did not have time to ask staff to write to him; the meeting was the next day, and I only had time to study the agenda the day before.
‘AJ did not submit a quote and was not involved in any of the quotes in the agenda.
Cost of sandbags
‘The call was my attempt to find a solution that kept the cost of the protection works below budget and close to the cost of replacing sandbags.
‘The resolution to protect Manfred Street followed a storm event in the summer of 2013, which nearly resulted in total failure of council’s own protection works, which are required of Council by a court order. A breach at this narrowest point in the spit would isolate all residents west from their homes, and potentially create an emergency evacuation incident. This advice was given to councillors by an eminent coastal engineer.
‘At that time, council had already spent well in excess of one million dollars on maintenance of this protection wall. As a consequence of the storm, council had to expend more funds to repair.
‘With an unexpected offer of $300,000 from government, and a strong likelihood of intense storms in the near future, we resolved to commence plans for a more robust protection measure.’
Mayor Richardson believes that the ‘eminent coastal engineer’ that Cr Ibrahim is relying on for validation recommends installing newly developed geobags, not rock walls.
‘The expert coastal panel that advise the government have all said they have a problem with the design and would prefer geobags,’ said the mayor. ‘The technology for geobags is now better than what was previously put at Belongil; the North Byron Beach Resort are deploying them now,’ he added.
The Echo has also asked Cr Ibrahim to again explain his relationship with Belongil landowner John Vaughan.
An Echo article last year asked Cr Ibrahim, ‘Has your personal friendship with some or any of these landowners influenced your decision to vote on their behalf?’
Cr Ibrahim at the time said that he has no personal friendships with any Belongil landowners, some of whom are negotiating with Council to build a rock wall on the beach and are in ongoing legal proceedings.
But a letter from longtime resident Donald Maughan described how he was ‘firstly amused then affronted and now disgusted with Byron Shire’s Cr Ibrahim’s answer to [that question].’
Mr Maughan claimed that at the last council election, John Vaughan ‘manned Sol Ibrahim’s booth for several hours.’
He said, ‘John was very happily supporting and espousing Cr Ibrahim’s credibility and the virtues as a potential councillor.
‘Maybe not a “personal friend” but Mr Vaughan sure was an “enthusiastic Ibrahim supporter”’.
Cr Ibrahim replied, ‘As for John Vaughan, lots of people supported me when they understood what I believed in.
‘That does not make them my friends. I do not speak with John Vaughan.
‘He never calls me, nor I him. I never email him. Is that clear enough, Hans?
‘Around 2,000 people voted for what I stood for, far more that Crs Cameron or Spooner. I first moved here in 1981, so I think I’m allowed to know a few people by now.’
But Mr Maughan also added that ‘As an aside having lived in the Bay for 64 years and involved with the community in several organisations, I thought I knew a lot of people but I did not recognise virtually any one of the people who were glad-handing, back-slapping and taking how to vote paraphernalia for candidate Ibrahim on the day.’