Ballina’s recently elected mayor has added yet another important position to her portfolio after taking a seat on the Rous County Council last month.
Independent conservative Councillor Sharon Cadwallader last week became the new chair of the Northern Rivers Joint Organisation [NRJO].
The NRJO represented six councils in the region: Byron, Tweed, Ballina, Lismore, Kyogle and Richmond Valley.
Cr Cadwallader said the Clarence Valley Shire was also likely to join the NRJO.
Member councils were represented on the NRJO by mayors and general managers.
Water security, pandemic business recovery priorities for new NRJO chair
The NRJO had five key priorities in a plan for the 2019 – 2022 period: biodiversity of natural environments; improved community well-being; a connected region; sustainable energy water and waste; and a diverse regional economy.
Information in the publicly available plan included recognition of a housing crisis on the Northern Rivers and the subsequent need for government help; hopes of improved communication services such as the internet; measures for restoring waterways; and goals of better public transport.
But Cr Cadwallader said it was appropriate to revise the NRJO priorities, especially given they were identified before the pandemic.
‘I’m not there to unpack the good work that that has already happened through the joint organisation,’ Cr Cadwallader told The Echo Thursday morning, ‘I would think we will be adding to the list and reviewing to see if they remain high priorities’.
Aside from focusing on a pandemic economic recovery for business, Cr Cadwallader said housing was ‘first and foremost’ on her list of regional priorities.
‘I believe that’s something that we really do need and can work together on as a region,’ Cr Cadwallader said, ‘it’s far greater than any council can do alone’.
‘It’s going to need government intervention and I will certainly be pushing for that Royal Commission into affordable housing,’ the NRJO chair said.
Regional water security was also raised as a priority, continuing a theme cemented in Cr Cadwallader’s mayoral campaign thanks to her relentless advocacy for a return to studies on the viability of a new dam in Lismore’s hinterland.
Rous sends Dunoon Dam advocates to Narrabri water conference
The new NRJO chair was in Narrabri when she spoke to The Echo, preparing for a two-day local government water conference hosted by the Narrabri Shire Council.
Cr Cadwallader said she was at the conference in her capacity as a Rous County councillor, along with fellow councillor and Ballina Shire Council teammate Rod Bruem, Lismore Rous representative Cr Big Rob, the Rous general manager and a Rous senior staffer.
The Ballina mayor said the trio of Rous County councillors were all ‘on the same page’ when it came to the controversial proposed and officially abandoned Dunoon Dam project and hoped to overturn the previous Rous vote against considering it.
While the Narrabri conference was likely to focus on new water security technologies, Cr Cadwallader said she expected dam construction would be on the agenda.
‘Water security is at the top of mind of every council, every community,’ Cr Cadwallader said.
‘We’ve got a changing environment and changing weather patterns with the more heavy rainfall periods and more dry periods,’ she said, ‘so you have to work with that, catch the rain, I believe, when it falls so that you’ve got adequate storage through those dry periods.’
Cr Cadwallader said she wouldn’t like to see a repeat of 2000 to 2003 ‘when Rocky Creek Dam got down to 21%’.
‘That was nail-biting times and it affected people’s lives dramatically,’ the NRJO chair said.
Cr Cadwallader said she hadn’t yet received updates on a promised CSIRO study examining, in part, water security on the Northern Rivers.
The first Rous County Council meeting for 2022, with a new-look membership, was scheduled for 16 February and Cr Cadwallader said she expected to hear more about the CSIRO study then.