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Byron Shire council criticised for flood response

Billinudgel's main street underwater. Photo Jeff Dawson.

Billinudgel’s main street underwater. Photo Jeff Dawson.

Residents have been contacting The Echo asking where the Byron Shire council has been?

The region has been declared a natural disaster area and the council appeared to be closed for the weekend.

People have been shocked at the response – or lack of response from Byron Shire council and councillors.

‘We are based in Ocean Shores and many of our neighbours houses were underwater,’ said local resident Sue Wilson.

‘We were unable to contact council over the weekend, they had nothing on their website and then people were being charged between $200 and $400 over the weekend to get rid of the rubbish at the Myocum recycling centre after the floods.

Council informed staff on Saturday to accept green waste and flood damaged waste for free.

‘They’ve extended it until 4 pm today (free waste) but some people have lost their cars and have no way of getting their rubbish there while others have to wait for insurance assessments before they can start the clean up.’

Bangalow State Primary School soccer field adjacent to Main Street Bangalow. Photo Bep van Ginkel.

Bangalow State Primary School soccer field adjacent to Main Street Bangalow. Photo Bep van Ginkel.

Many areas in Byron shire escaped relatively unscathed but Billinudgel, South Golden beach, New Brighton and low lying areas of Ocean Shores were particularly hard hit. Flood waters rose higher than most people in the region had seen them before with many people saying they were higher than the ’74 floods.

‘When we called a local councillor they said they didn’t even know that Billinudgel and New Brighton were underwater and [mayor] Simon Richardson never returned our calls.’

Sue and Scott Wilson have questioned how council could be so ill prepared to respond to the flooding.

‘We also have a house in Brisbane,’ continued Sue. ‘The local councillor there was in the street door knocking in the rain within a few hours of the flooding over the weekend. He was asking how he could help, organising pumps and helping people. We haven’t seen a single councillor here.’

Many people in the shire have lost everything from household possessions to cars.

‘There is a pensioner in Billinudgel who has lost everything,’ said Scott Wilson. ‘Her house was flooded and the only dry thing left was her computer which she put on a high shelf – then someone came and stole it.

‘Where have the council been on this issue? I was in Thailand when the tsunami happened and the response to a natural disaster was better in a third world country than this.’

Tweed Council has been placing skips in areas that have been hard hit by flooding over the weekend to assist residents with the cleanup process. They have also brought in extra rubbish trucks to help with removal of rubbish bins and skips and returning them to ensure that residents can continue the cleanup.

Byron Shire Council responds

After initially charging people to deposit flood waste over the weekend Byron Council then said they would allow free waste dumping at the Myocum recycling centre until 4pm today. On review they have now extended the offer to dump flood waste until Monday 10 April.

Byron council have said that anyone charged over the weekend for dumping flood related material should contact council to arrange a refund.

People lining up outside Mullumbimby IGA to shop during the flood. Photo Sharon Shostak

People lining up outside Mullumbimby IGA to shop during the flood. Photo Sharon Shostak

School closure

Mullumbimby High School is currently closed to all but year 11 and 12 students due to damage following the flooding.

Community responding

Lighthouse removals have said, on the Facebook pages of Mullum bytes and Helping Hands Byron Shire, that they will take flood damaged material to the dump for free from Ocean Shores – you just need to help them load the truck.

Many others are offering furniture and other goods to people who have lost everything in the floods and those who need specific items are listing them to see if they can be replaced.

In true Mullumbimby spirit IGA in Mullumbimby stayed open on Friday despite the cut to electricity. They were letting people in one at a time to shop until they were able to fully open their doors when power was restored.


24 responses to “Byron Shire council criticised for flood response”

  1. Keerti says:

    absolutely staggering! A friend whose house was flooded in O/S and with a lot of help has deposited flood damaged furniture etc rang council re a council collection and was told that because the last curbsite collection was abused that there would be no council collection.Wanting to loose some votes next election councillors?

  2. Mark Bailey says:

    I hate to point out the obvious at a time like this but really, what do you expect. The Greens could not organise a Chook Raffle at a Country Pub!!

  3. Neal says:

    The good old Byron Council. A community pleads for support as they lose everything and are given a Yawn in reply. Our increased rates at work for sure!

  4. Dr Jacqui Murray says:

    Apart from the appallingly insensitive lack of response from council and councilors, and demonstrated ignorance of their responsibilities (both humane and legal under Disaster Declaration), the Evacuation Order issued around 3.20 a.m. by the SES came far too late, was exceptionally dangerous (ordering people into fast flowing flood waters), ignorant of the power problems being experienced at the official evacuation centre (Ocean Shores Country Club) and, last but not least, deeply offensive and frightening in its tone … a recording of a wailing siren and the far from calm male voice of an individual who sounded somewhat hysterical. All that top of the the fact that the order came in the hours of darkness when the flood was peaking.

  5. Simon says:

    I heard the Mayor on the radio over the weekend he was asked several relevant and pressing questions about the councils response to similar issues raised in this article. His stock response was that he would have to consult the staff and work something out.
    It seemed like he hadn’t really thought about it at all and he would get to it Monday when he goes to work. Mate this is a community crisis and you are a community leader, waiting until after the weekend is over is not good enough. He mentioned to the interviewer something about Byron being relatively unscathed compared to other shires and then seemingly as an afterthought acknowledged that some areas in the north of the shire had some flooding. I live in the north of the shire and once again it is patently obvious to many of us who live in the north, that according to the council if it doesn’t happen in Byron Bay its either not happening or not a concern.

  6. Greg O'Meara says:

    It is sad for someone to be so blaming on Councillors and the staff of BSC. To say that “many parts of the shire escaped unscathed” is heartless. Bridges damaged, roads impassable, power sully interrupted. What if the council staff themselves had there own repairs to be done. There is a need for people to HARDEN UP and got off their butts and help themselves…
    Thank you Byron Shire staff and Councillors.

  7. Splenda says:

    Disgusted!! So where was Simon Richardson as people had to leave their homes and belongings, and after the water receeded left to clean up the mess with no help from Council, until Monday morning ??
    After all the Shire was declared part of the area included in the Natural Disaster Zone? Nothing has changed really has it in Byron Shire..Is this acceptable? We deserve better than this. This utterly devastating lack of response and support from our elected officials.

  8. Arco Iris says:

    completely hopeless, no help no assistance to be seen anywhere, some native along Orana Road fell into the Street, phones at the Council not manned during an emergency, but on Monday when I took my dog for a walk at the round house there was a clearly marked council ute with a guy his wife and a kid sight seeing the flood at Waterlily park from a save distance. Trucks could drive round the suburbs and collect all the stuff people have to throw out, peoples stress is bad enough without our council making life harder for people.
    Our mayor for sports fields and round-abouts should pull up his gum boots and get involved in the clean up, as should our other useless counselors. The fallen native tree that I cut off the road, will remain on the verge until the council decides to pick it up

  9. Margot. says:

    On another -but related note: a friend and I went out Lismore yesterday to help friends whose houses had gone under. Before my friend arrived,she had contacted Byron Shire councillors and other local politely figures , to see if we could have a donation centre set up( perhaps at the Community Centre) for people who wanted to contribute goods to affected areas-including Lismore. We are neighbours and when disaster hits, we are all in it together. She was told to approach an opshop! Then she went to Alldi to buy cleaning materials for our trip and saw a world of cafe drinkers, splendour ticket buyers and- a vast disconnect from what was happening 45 minutes inland.
    It occurred to me if,the disaster was in Nepal or Bali,there would be benefits and actions organised in Byron Shire,but not for Lismore -or so far, for our own communities. Someone else said,’oh Lismore floods all the time.’
    What I saw yesterday was heartbreaking and truly a disaster. Community spirit there was amazing.everyone lending a hand wherever it was needed. My deepest condolences to all who were hit in Byron and beyond our borders.

  10. Tobby says:

    If the Byron Shire Council did curbside cleanup more often it wouldn’t get abused as much

  11. Rosie says:

    I’d like confirmation from Council as to whether the siren type noise that sounded in Mullumbimby in the early, errie hours of Friday morning, was in fact the evacuation siren telling us to evacuate. I’ve never heard it before so was confused as to what it actually was, as there was no-one speaking anything that I could hear over the East side of town. And if it was, then where were we supposed to evacuate to, and how?
    Greg …. people in the Shire Are helping themselves, and each other. Just MDNC, fb and the streets.
    And Thank You to all the SES volunteers for what you have done and continue to do. And to the pubs and businesses who were open Friday, and over the weekend for business as unusual, and community support.

  12. Andrew says:

    As an emergency service worker during this weather event, the Byron Council’s assistance was not satisfactory. Some individual council workers did a great job but as a whole it was a very poor effort and I’m most disappointed.
    Please remember this event when next at the ballot box.

  13. Donna says:

    Byron Shire Council has a history of greed, community neglect and self preservation!! The roads around Ocean Shores are disgraceful and have been in disrepair for years. Where is all the money (rates) going!!! …

  14. Deahan Hayes says:

    We are one of the small businesses in Billinudgel that was majorly affected by the floods. We had a ” council representative ” come in this afternoon she advised us that because Byron Shire was NOT declared a natural disaster???? The council has now decided that on ‘their own back”,they won’t be paid for it they will do a roadside pickup tomorrow, we were totally shocked. And we told her is way to late because the majority of the rubbish has already be done. We are in shock, how can the council not back us up, we need all the help we can get.

  15. Raw says:

    South golden beach flood water pump not turned on til hours after the peak. Same old, same old. Asked Simon on his FB page to get it turned on – no response. Much unnecessary damage and property loss. Locals at SGB asked council to get the pump on many hours before the peak.

  16. Helen says:

    I’m having a bit of a disconnect moment about living in the Byron ‘bubble’ – a half hour’s drive from an unprecedented disaster area that pretty much radiates one hundred and eighty degrees around our precious little tourist mecca – when all that’s offered from the ‘authorities’, when asked if a depot for donations and distribution centre could be set up is: ‘Try the op shops’. I was gobsmacked.

    Byron Bay is one of the few towns unaffected by the floods. Would it not make sense, from a logistic and compassionate point of view, that we are best placed to provide assistance? But no. It was the weekend and it’s not in my backyard. But hang on – didn’t Mullum get flooded? It sickens me to read the stories from others here about the absence of Council in their own shire. The silence was, and still is, as of 7.52 am more than four days later, deafening! All we get is a siren and, eventually, an offer for free drop offs at the tip. There were / are homes whose entire contents needed to be taken to the tip. Sorry, we can’t help you there. You’ll have to arrange your own transport.

    Thank goodness for grass roots community, for neighbours and strangers offering assistance, and the incredible network of Neighbourhood Centres in Lismore, Ballina, Pottsville, Murwillumbah, Mid Richmond, Grafton. But not Byron. There is no Neighbourhood Centre in Byron. I’m guessing the rents are too high for a Centre capable of offering this kind of support in a situation such as this. The comment quoted about third world countries has an awful ring to it.

    Thank goodness for Facebook where people are responding immediately to calls for help and others are offering their services, and by golly they do, at lightening speed, on Lismore, Byron Shire and Murwillumbah’s Helping Hands pages.

    Up until yesterday there’s been no army or other major government operation assisting with clean up, and the trauma of pretty much everything – just regular folks doing their damnedest. The generosity and willingness to answer calls for help has been incredible and puts to shame the complete non-involvement of Byron Council, up until now. To be fair Council’s like Lismore have a flood plan in place and are prepared. Nevertheless, given the comment here about what’s required of Regional Centres in the NSW Disaster Declaration, should not Byron Council have had a plan in place? Are they failing us in their duty of care?

    Is it because we don’t pay enough rates? Is it because our dear Councillors and hardworking staff need their weekends off? Maybe it is as simple as, sorry we weren’t prepared. We didn’t know.

    And when it comes to places of absolute crisis – Lismore and Murwillumbah – where things are really really dire and on a massive scale – well there’s a line isn’t there? These towns are in another shire. Not our responsibility. Now I should check myself here because no one has actually said that to me, but what’s a person supposed to think? Why? There’ll be apologies no doubt. But why?

  17. Matt says:

    After the 2005 floods in South Golden Beach the council doubled the number and size of the pumps they use to pump accumulated water out, and assured us that now these new pumps are in place it would prevent future flooding. Only problem is they weren’t switched on!!!!! The water was ranged from 0.2 -0.7m over 3/4 of the suburb from 3am until mid-afternoon.

    A Council officer switched the first pump on after 11 am. The BOM forecast this rain and flood watch 3 days beforehand. Flooding in South Golden could have and should have been averted by a minuscule amount of common sense and forward planning

  18. Andy says:

    Bottom line you need a labour council with an understanding of infrastructure..these guys are fine for champagne and dips but when it comes to rolling their sleeves up and getting the hard yards done ..forget it

    • Matthew says:

      Hey Andy, you seem to imply that Council staff cannot think or act for themselves without an elected representative telling them how and when to do their jobs. Most Council staff are permanent employees doing a set of routine tasks in the same jobs year after year, and they are definitely not elected…. That is my beef with how things were handled at South Golden.

      And why do you think it takes a labour council to understand infrastructure? How does a political viewpoint change anybody’s understanding of something as basic as that? Has previous Council governance and past politics acknowledged and included any scientific basis? Is that why we have so much development in high risk locations like floodplains and coastal lowlands? And how is that changing now….. business as usual and attack ad hominem anyone you disagree with!

  19. Caro says:

    My home was flooded in Mullumbimby. There was no siren near my house. I had no warning at all. It quickly became apparent that our “community leaders ‘ were doing nothing. Even the belated offer of free use of the dump seems to exclude flood affected soft items such as mattresses.
    I am just so sick of watching Byron get all our rates pumped into its infrastructure, leaving not enough to properly maintain the rest of the community. To the council we are NIMBYs (not in my backyard).

  20. Ann says:

    As a recent arrival to Mullumbimby I am appalled at the serious lack of attention to public safety displayed by the Byron Shire Council during and after the revent flooding. As I read these posts today I am angry at the widespread neglect that has occurred across the shire.
    There was no warning issued by the shire.
    There has been no offer of assistance regarding rubbish pick up, clean up of property or rehousing of those affected.
    No councillor has been in my street to see if we are dead or alive.
    The Myocum dump opening hours were not extended.
    There is no donation centre or council support centre.
    Rubbish is still clinging to bridges, mud is still caked on the streets.
    Dont get me started on the potholes!
    This council needs to face up to the rate payers.
    I want a public meeting to explain why the council slept through.one of the worst floods in the shire.
    I want to see the disaster response plan and know why it was not implemented..

  21. Jimbo says:

    Wow, just read these comments. Looking at Lismore and Tweed the stories of community pulling together and bringing out the best of people have been so humbling and warming. Good people helping each other out without any self entitled rediculous expectation that the Council should have been there to sort out everything. My house was flooded, lost tens of thousands of $’s of stuff. Then on Monday a really lovely Council staff member came round to my property to make sure I was ok and letting me know they would be conducting a clean-up as soon as they could get contractors available as all their fleet had been out on the weekend in response mode to make sure people didn’t die
    and access was maintained as much as possible. Then the help came. Sure there were some instances where people had to pay to drop off rubbish on saturdAy, but they are getting refunded. The council’s building couldn’t be accessed on Friday or Saturday could it due to flood and no power?
    The staff member that came round eplained all this, said there’d be trying to doorknock as many residents as possible and help out where they could….what a great council response in my opinion! Went through Billinudgel today and looked amazing less than a week after the flood! Wow, great effort Bsc!

    So, Echo, I think you and all those who commented above owe council an apology for such a negative response. Have a good look at yourselves and perhaps you should get out there and help out rather than sit back and criticise. Crap people with a crap attitude.
    And thank you and welldone council…amazing and heat felt response – shows you guys care and all these people above me don’t belong in this shire!

    • Mark Bailey says:

      Jimbo, great Council came Monday. But if you read the comments it’s about Council been AWOL for 3 days. And frankly any Council that can get around to charging people to clean up after a disaster over the weekend can surely get the rest of the show on the road at the same time.

      But I do agree that The Echo owes us all an apology. They need to apologise for giving The Greens such a free run for years and years. It has taken a once in a lifetime event to create a situation that even The Echo can’t excuse away.

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