The announcement today of funding to both Ballina and Byron shire councils by parliamentary secretary for the northern NSW Ben Franklin ‘to better understand and manage local flood risk’ is at least a step in the right direction.
Byron shire council applied for the funding for the North Byron Floodplain Risk Management Study and Plan last year. The area to be assessed was then hard hit by Cyclone Debbie with many people and businesses still trying to get back on their feet in its wake.
The big dollars are rolled out for disaster relief rather than mitigation in Australia according to local civil engineer, Duncan Dey: ‘In Australia we spend bugger all on good planning and heaps on “disaster relief”. Most disasters can be sheeted home to bad panning. Most other countries allocate 80 per cent of their disaster budget towards better planning and 20 per cent towards restoration. Sadly in Australia we roll out the money when there are extreme weather events rather than planning to avoid building in areas prone to these events. This policy entrenches failure.’
The current estimate to repair roads and bridges to their former condition, that is getting tham back to their condition prior to Cyclone Debbie not making them more resilient or able to withstand future cyclonic events, in this region is between $70–100 million according to David Oxenham, chair of the infrastructure, waste and environment sub-committee of the regional flood committee.
Upgraded infrastructure needed
Oxenham has highlighted the need for both state and federal government to fund the essential work needed to to make these assets more resilient not just to bring them back to the previous condition.
‘For every $10 they (the government) spend on recovery and restoration for flood events they are spending $1 on flood management and mitigation,’ said Oxenham.
‘It is about making the assets more resilient. So far the state and federal governments have said no. We would like them to put their minds to making assets more resilient rather than just replacement.’
As part of the long overdue funding allocated today Ballina has received $266,000 to develop a strategy to protect the existing urban footprint of Ballina Island and West Ballina below the one per cent annual exceedance probability flood level from mainstream, storm surge and local overland flooding that can be adapted for future sea level rise.
The Byron Shire Council will use the funds to complete the Northern Byron Coastal Creeks Flood Study, once completed the Council will prepare the North Byron Coastal Creeks Flood Risk Management Study and Plan.
‘Much of our infrastructure was built in the 1960s and 70s and it is not up to standard,’ continued Dey.
‘The State government should be funding decent infrastructure. I think that the state should recognise that things need to improve. NSW should stop building freeways in Sydney and make sure that the rest of the state has basic infrastructure that does not wash away in floods.’