Main Arm residents might have thought the annual ‘crop’ raids had come early on Tuesday when a chopper spent the entire day flying up and down the valley.
Yet it appears that it was new owners of a Coopers Lane, Main Arm property that were transferring around 36 loads of building materials by private helicopter to their property. They had told locals that the materials are only those required to bring one of the currently illegal dwellings on their property up to council regulations.
The Echo has been told that the owners of the property are supposedly renovating an existing unapproved dwelling, to bring it up to council specifications before they can get approval, but many in the Main Arm community believe that their intention is to build a ‘health retreat’ with several cabins and guests arriving by helicopter.
The Echo was contacted by several people from neighbouring properties.
One neighbour said that they recorded 36 loads flying over their property. ‘I may have missed up to two. I have pictures of 35 loads and a video.
‘The cargo varied from large loaded pallets, packs of short timber and packs of longer timber framing, scaffolding and steelwork and one load looked like stair stringers.
‘Averaging loads at two cubic metres would mean about 75 cubic metres was airlifted. I reckon that’d be enough to build three modest homes or two McMansions.
‘Many packs of framing timber went up.
‘This quantity of materials does not support the landowner’s claim that works are only on the one existing house “to upgrade the structure to comply with the Building Code of Australia”, so as to obtain a Building Information Certificate.’
The neighbour said ‘the landowner’s hope did not eventuate “to have the required air lifts completed quickly (2 hours approx) so that the final repairs to the house can be completed without further delays”.
‘The chopper arrived before 9am and did a final fly-by at 3.30pm. The fly-by at the end was unnecessary, a sort of “up-yours” gesture to the neighbours and included flying right over one neighbour’s house just to show who rules the sky.
‘Total helicopter time was almost seven hours.’
No legal escape
Another complaint was that all of this happened during lockdown. ’This all went on while we were all housebound. It is an absentee owner and the extreme noise was on top of at least a month of preliminary noise of sawing, wood-chipping, and rock excavation, presumably to prepare the property for the seven cabins long rumoured to be in the pipeline.
‘Some people are aged, others had kids and jobs who struggled to work from home. In some houses the noise was so loud they couldn’t hear the council officers they were talking to on the phone when the helicopter was overhead, dropping materials.’
Another neighbour said they rang the company who owns the chopper to complain. ‘I rang Richmond Aviation to advise them I didn’t appreciate his pilot’s last low flight over my house. He said our neighbourhood must have a bunch of assholes. He didn’t want to hear about my complaint. I was not given any advice of the complaint procedures.’ This neighbour said that Council had told her the pilot had been fined.
When The Echo contacted Richmond Valley Aviation, Director Donovan Newell said this information is false. ‘I can inform you that the pilot was not purposely “buzzing” any houses but was conducting a final site inspection to ensure that all loads had been transported to the site and were in the correct position.
‘I can also inform you that I have reviewed the flight data from the aircraft and confirmed that the aircraft’s altitude was not excessively (illegally) low.
‘I can also inform you that we have not been issued any such fines.
‘Another point of note is that the resident who called was offered help to get in touch with the proper authorities who handle aviation complaints where it is believed activities in contravention to aviation law were undertaken and they declined.’
The Echo contacted the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Their media representative said one person rang but they didn’t raise any safety issues. ‘However, we are reviewing available information to make sure all relevant requirements were being met.’
Council say all above board
Byron Shire Council’s Director Sustainable Environment and Economy, Shannon Burt, said that a Development Control Order was issued in relation to a structure on the property. ‘Representatives of the property owner are in the process of legitimising this structure – either via appropriate approval processes or via compliance with the order.
‘Council’s Community Enforcement Officers have completed a pro-active investigation in relation to the further building works, including inspections of the property.
‘No breaches of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act were identified during an on-site inspection.
‘Council has been in regular contact with the CASA as to the requirements relating to the use of a helicopter.
‘The manner the helicopter was used in does not fall within the jurisdiction of Council.
While council staff had told neighbours that it appeared that the material airlifted to the site was beyond what was required for bringing the dwelling up to council codes Ms Burt officially told The Echo that the material delivered was assessed as matching the purpose of the intended exempt building works.
‘Council will continue to respond to any development which requires approval and/or respond to any further complaints received,’ she told The Echo.
One neighbour said that it’s not so much about the noise. ’We don’t oppose rightful development that meets regulations and has been adequately assessed and approved,’ they told The Echo.
‘What’s horrible is the deception and the hidden threat that this huge investment – materials plus chopper delivery – will bring force to bear on Council’s meagre assessment system, probably after the cabins are built.’
♦ The owners of the property were contacted for comment but no comment was received before publication