After strong public pressure, Rous County Council voted unanimously this morning to extend the public response window on the Future Water Project 2060 for a further 28 days.
The motion to extend the feedback period was moved by Lismore’s Rous County Councillor Darlene Cook and seconded by Byron’s Cr Simon Richardson in a livestreamed meeting.
Cr Cook said, ‘I think we’re all aware that there’s been a huge amount of interest in this Future Water Project. There’s a lot of conversation out in the community, but people are finding there’s such a huge amount of information that they’re having trouble digesting it and getting their heads around all of it.
‘A lot of us have been receiving requests – anything up to half a dozen or more per day – requesting more time to consider this project, and to get proper and adequately thought-out responses back to us. So this motion is reflecting all those requests from the community.’
The view from Byron, or was it San Francisco?
Cr Simon Richardson responded to the motion. ‘When we’re considering the question of future-proofing our water supply we need to acknowledge this is a community process and project, not just an infrastructure project, so we need to make sure we bring our community with us.
‘Part of that is providing as much time as is necessary for them to fully feel engaged and aware of the proposal, and going forward for us to be able to provide thorough and detailed reports on future-proofing, to assist everyone getting to a decision as to whether we go forward with the Dunoon Dam,’ he said.
Rous CC Chair Keith Williams said that after discussion with General Manager Phillip Rudd, a four week extension would not give staff enough time to respond to all the feedback by October, and asked that staff’s report back to Council be delayed until December.
This amendment was agreed to.
Cr Basil Cameron said he supported the motion to extend the comments period.
‘I do appreciate that perhaps from our perspective we certainly are informed about developments all the way along, but I can see looking back that maybe some of the ongoing engagement about the other steps from the Future Water Strategy haven’t been as well discussed in public.
‘That’s made it a little bit difficult for people to digest this information at the moment.
‘I’m also aware we are a little constrained by COVID, in what we can do in terms of engagement, he said.
‘In an ideal world we would be able to hold town hall meetings and similar sorts of engagement processes. I’m hopeful that some of the constituent councils will look for opportunities to engage with their local communities around this.
‘We’re all partners in this together.’
Richmond Valley’s Cr Mustow responded to Cr Cameron by saying, ‘I do think the previous councils have engaged with the community. I can remember many years ago going to Dunoon and having a town hall meeting, and there have been other avenues of contact. Saying that, I will be supporting the motion.
‘These extraordinary circumstances we’re in now with COVID, it makes it very hard for the community engagement process, so extending the 28 days will hopefully give the community more time to respond.’
Lismore’s Cr Ekins said she would endorse the motion, but for a different reason.
‘This gives our administration an opportunity to compile some information about rainwater tanks that we’ve been asking for. That’s a really important piece of the puzzle,’ she said.
Cr Keith Williams said he agreed that more information was needed about water tanks. ‘That’s become much more topical,’ he said.
‘I’ve had discussions with the GM about providing a frequently asked questions kind of response along with the exhibition materials, to try and explain some of the assumptions that are in the current model, that assumes almost all new houses will have access to rain, or to tanks, or to recycled water, and that’s actually built into the numbers. I think we need to explain that point better in particular.’
Cr Williams said he’s spent a lot of time in recent weeks talking to people about water issues for the region, and thinks ‘we need to continue that conversation’. He supported the motion.
‘I’m really heartened by the quality of the conversation we’ve had at the moment, the response from our local media,’ he said.
‘The important thing is that we come up with a robust decision that neither we nor our future generations live to regret. That’s what we need to aim for, so let’s take our time and make a good decision,’ he said.
What about tanks?
Cr Darlene Cook said she endorsed the comments and suggestions from the other councillors, ‘and especially getting more information on rainwater tanks, because that’s a question nearly everybody asks, what about rainwater tanks?
‘That’s not just in our purview, but we need to liaise with other councils to facilitate that with future developments.’
Cr Cook wrapped up the debate by saying, ‘It’s an incredible body of work as we all are aware, and this will give everyone in the community a chance to assimilate more of the information, obtain more information and allow us to respond to them, bring them with us on the journey, so hopefully their feedback will be informative and guide us to make the best decision for the future of secure water here on the Northern Rivers.’
The motion to extend public comment for a further 28 days (from the original closure date of 12 August) was carried unanimously.
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