The construction of an additional sewage flow path from the Byron Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) to Belongil Creek will proceed to tender, despite a local hydrological engineer expressing concerns about the environmental impact.
A majority of Byron Councillors approved the move at last week’s meeting, five years after Council first decided to pursue the project in a bid to address the issue of treated effluent flowing into private farms around the STP, especially during heavy rains.
The additional path would use existing public drainage land that goes through the Byron Industrial Estate and West Byron Urban Release Area, eventually connecting to Belongil Creek.
But during the public access section of the meeting, local hydrological engineer Duncan Dey said that the project appeared to involve a potential increase in the amount of treated effluent being discharged into the catchment area.
‘It seems to me that the project has taken a step forward into the expansion of the Byron sewage treatment system, which has not yet been thought about, though we can all see it coming,’ Mr Dey said.
‘There’s a huge issue here about the capacity of the Belongil catchment and estuary to absorb more water,’ Mr Dey said.
‘All of the water comes through the Byron system comes from Rocky Creek Dam. We’ve got a cross-catchment transfer and that water is being absorbed at the estuary.’
Mr Dey said there had already been major issues around the management of the system, including significant fish kills in Belongil Creek, and controversy over the opening of the opening of the mouth of the estuary.
He said Council’s own environmental assessment process didn’t touch on these issues, and that the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had not yet granted approval.
There had also been a lack of consideration of what would happen in the event of a 100-year flood.
‘It is full of oversights,’ he said of Council’s assessment process.
‘I implore you not to go to tender on this project because it isn’t ready.’
When the matter came up for debate during the meeting, Council’s utilities manager Cameron Clarke was asked by Green’s Councillor Michael Lyon about some of Mr Dey’s concerns.
‘Is it appropriate to continue to tender without the EPA licence?’ Cr Lyon asked.
‘They indicated that they would give us the licence once we’ve got the go-ahead,’ Mr Clarke replied.
‘There was concern that in the one-in-100-years flood there might be some effluent in the drainage that might move slowly and there,’ Mr Lyon continued.
Mr Clarke responded, ‘There would be limited risk to the public in terms of public health and environmental health as the quality of the water means that there would be limited health and environmental health risk’.
Cr Lyon said he felt everything had been included in the report from Council staff.
‘There are still some things to work through, but as I see it those are operational matters,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘I think the case for the additional flow path has been made and we need to move forward now.’
Independent Councillor Cate Coorey moved that, prior to put out to tender, Council seek an amended licence from the EPA, and that it produce a management and operational framework for the alternative flow path.
The motion also sought clarification on any potential increase in drainage flows prior to the tender process.
However, this motion was defeated by a majority of councillors, with the staff recommendation being approved by five votes to two.