Byron Shire Council’s general manager Ken Gainger has disputed last week’s Echo story regarding due process over a legal letter sent to council over its controversial rock wall project at Belongil.
A letter from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO on behalf of non-government organisation Positive Change for Marine,) asked Council to provide an environmental impact study (EIS) of the project. The Echo understands the EDO requested a response by July 31 and said an injunction may be filed if it was not.
But Mr Gainger contends due process was followed and Mayor Simon Richardson was ‘aware of the letter (from a source other than council) the following day (internal email from the mayor to staff on Wednesday July 29 confirmed), not the “end of the week” as The Echo reported.’
But Cr Paul Spooner told The Echo, ‘I am able to confirm that councillors were informed of the details of the EDO letter in a confidential memo on August 6. At the time, it was indicated that council was seeking legal advice regarding the issues raised by the letter.’
Mr Gainger continued, ‘As is usual with any matters of a legal nature, the EDO letter was immediately (upon receipt) referred to council’s legal services co-ordinator for action.’
Complex legal issues
‘Because of the complex legal issues surrounding Belongil coastal protection matters, the legal services co-ordinator forwarded the EDO letter to council’s Sydney-based lawyers for advice before responding to the EDO. Councillors were advised of this.
‘Contrary to The Echo’s suggestion, no council meeting was ever contemplated or suggested for August 3 or 4 to deal with the EDO letter. Contrary to The Echo report, the EDO letter did not go “disregarded”. It was dealt with promptly, legal advice was urgently sought, and the council responded to the EDO, agreeing to give them 72 hours notice of construction work commencing at Belongil. The GM being off sick had no bearing on the EDO letter being promptly and appropriately dealt with,’ Mr Gainger said.
‘It is not unusual for the council to be threatened with legal action – such threats are made regularly and are only occasionally proceeded with. It is usual for the council to seek advice on the veracity of legal matters before informing councillors. Due process was followed,’ he added.
The Echo contends that the mayor was quoted accurately and in good faith, specifically The Echo reported the mayor’s understanding of council staff’s response to the letter and whether a meeting was planned.