By Luis Feliu
A controversial bid a major water-extraction and bottling business at Urliup Road, Bilambil to expand its operation by trebling the size of its delivery trucks has stalled for two months as Tweed councillors split on how to deal with it.
At Tweed Shire Council’s meeting last night, the progressive majority out-voted their conservative opponents 4-3 to seek a merit assessment on the plan with the information currently before councillors, so they can determine the matter once and for all, at the 11 May planning-committee meeting.
The mineral-water and bottling operation at 477 Urliup Road, approved 13 years ago, wants to upgrade the road and expand the size of its trucks from six metres to 19 metres long, which has outraged locals fearing for the loss of their quiet rural amenity.
Some addressed councillors last night wanting the plan to be scotched then and there, while a community activist group, the Tweed Water Alliance, has also sprung up to oppose increasing water mining in the Tweed.
Minority councillors Warren Polglase (National Party) and his Liberal ally James Owen failed to get their motion up to allow a merit assessment ‘only’ to go before the April planning committee meeting for them to determine it.
Property owner Larry Karlos’s plan for his extraction and bottling business, as well as a similar one at Uki by former Labor minister Jack Hallam, have stirred community unrest and opposition.
Urliup local Patrick O’Brien last night raised concerns on behalf of residents during community access at the council meeting.
‘What started as a small local community water delivery service two times a week with a car and trailer has escalated now into 84 trips a week (12 trips a day, 7 days a week) with six-metre rigid trucks,’ Mr O’Brien told councillors.
‘The claim that these operations are 100 per cent dead silent is wrong as anybody living between Urliup and Kennedy Drive can tell you. We are woken every morning at 6.45am by the truck exhaust braking and rattling around the corner. It can be heard coming over 100 metres away.
‘This also comes with it the dangerous conditions experienced by other road users such as residents, visitors, bike and horse riders and the school bus.
‘Numerous breaches listed in the 2015 report at almost three pages long had almost no consequences to the applicant and in fact he was granted this current d/a amendment to suit what he was illegally undertaking.
‘It is now before council again to change the conditions of the original proposal, this time to 19-metre articulated trucks. This now entails widening the road and removing many trees to accommodate the increase in size.
‘To make the road safe and to bring it up to council standard as stated by the applicant, it would need to be widened for several kilometres turning it from a quiet rural road into a semi industrial one.
‘Half the rural roads in the shire would be comparable to Urliup and would fall under the same criteria. Where does it stop?
‘Water security is one of the major concerns facing communities today.
‘Anecdotal evidence which is now being collected shows a distinct loss of water to the spring fed creek system in this valley. We have had much the same rainfall over the past several years yet the creek is lower and slower moving than ever before.
‘The hydrology report commissioned by the applicant stating creek levels are unaffected is extremely poor. It makes a number of conclusions but doesn’t provide any evidence. Water levels in the creek were in fact only monitored for a one-week period which can only be inconclusive.
‘I commend council on the recent decision to look at increasing capacity of the Clarrie Hall dam which addresses this ongoing concern of this fundamental requirement.
‘Increasing truck size and removing trees to accommodate an industry that gives no benefit to the residents of the Tweed seems to be in conflict with these water security measures.
‘On the one hand were allowing our precious water to be taken out of the community and on the other taking steps to store more water.
‘I ask the council to please look to the wider implications that this proposal brings with it and to take this into your consideration,’ Mr O’Brien said.
Meanwhile, Uki local Gwyn Hooper wrote to councillors recently opposing the Uki proposal and to ‘enlighten’ them on the shire’s target for water consumption for each person per day of 170 litres.
‘This target has been arrived at to ensure that the future water supply to the shire can be sustained,’ Ms Hooper said.
‘However it is amazing that you are considering the licence to extract 25,000,000 per year from an agricultural water licence here in Uki.
‘What justification do you have to allow the change of a licence from agricultural usage to commercial usage when you are quite rightly setting targets for water usage in the shire?
‘The proposal of extracting 25,000,000 per year equates to 68,493 litres a day!
‘That is the TSC target for the usage of 402 people a day .
‘The extraction of this water cannot in any circumstances be in line with the water needs and demands of the shire.
‘It is morally wrong and the DA should be rejected by the council.
‘Argument as regarding source of reticulate water from dams of extraction from aquifers will not stand up.
‘Water in the aquifer is related to ground water for water catchment in dams.
‘There is also a fear that one DA to make financial gain in this manner will lead to more.
‘Not a good scenario for a council that advocates water targets,’ Ms Hooper wrote.