Secrecy still surrounds Council’s business case for a proposed bioenergy facility at the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant (STP).
Despite the positive public relations (PR) around potentially processing the region’s organic waste and creating jobs, the recent DA presented to the public was light on details around the cost to ratepayers in preparing the DA and the business case.
After repeatedly asking staff for weeks, a reply came back with a statement saying ‘some key summary financial information’ for the business case will be presented to the public, yet comes without any timeline. Council staff say, ‘During 2018 to 2021, Council has invested $1,350,283 (incl.GST) in feasibility studies, engineering design, commercial advisory services and in developing the regulatory pathways for a purpose-built bioenergy facility for the Byron Shire’.
‘Council resolved, in February 2020, to work with the preferred proponent supplying the German Bekon technology.
‘Council will prepare for public release some key summary financial information regarding the main elements of the business case, and that do not compromise Council’s negotiating position with project stakeholders. The business case and financial model have been prepared by qualified professionals and with Council’s direct input, independently checked, accepted by Commonwealth grant agencies, and presented several times for review by Council Executive and relevant Council Managers. Once finalised, with grant funding determined, the cost estimates and financial model will again be independently checked and presented to Council. The next Council will have final decision over whether this project will proceed, via resolution’.
When asked how keeping this information secret aligns with transparent and competent governance, Acting Mayor Michael Lyon said, ‘Summary cost indications have been released which provide a picture of the feasibility of the project’.
‘The status of our grant applications is still unknown, and details will be disclosed once the outcomes of those applications are known.
‘There is also commercial in-confidence information relating to other shires’ use of the facility, which cannot be disclosed until those negotiations have concluded, otherwise it jeopardises our position. Full details will be made available once these negotiations have concluded. We are committed to full transparency, but being competent means releasing information at the appropriate time and not prematurely, when it can impact on what you are trying to achieve’.
Bird numbers down
Meanwhile, local conservation group, Byron Bird Buddies, has been monitoring the wetlands for 15 years.
David Isle reported last week that while Council staff consider adverse impacts ‘unlikely’ from the facility, bird numbers are in decline.