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February 8, 2023

Once a lemon, always a lemon say Big Scrub critics of Lismore flood levees

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Flooding in Lismore, looking west over CBD, 1 March 2022. Photo David Lowe.

Descriptions of Lismore’s flood levees as lemons by the Big Scrub Environment Centre [BSEC] nearly twenty years ago have proven true, according to one of the founding members.

BSEC foundation secretary Dr John Corkill OAM says calls from the likes of new Lismore City Council Mayor Steve Krieg and Nationals Page MP Kevin Hogan for federal funds to build more, higher flood levees in Lismore are ‘completely out of line’.

‘Millions of dollars have been spent on building and repairing the existing levee on the Wilson’s River’s east bank at Lismore, and other engineering works to manipulate the floodplain downstream,’ said the Northern Rivers environmentalist.

‘But it is now starkly clear that these “works” have not worked, that all these public funds have been wasted, and many people adversely affected by this narrow “engineering” approach,’ said Dr Corkill.

Council staff closing the levee at Lismore in early 2021. Photo supplied.

BSEC levee warnings 18 years ago fell on deaf ears

Dr Corkill said BSEC had made an extensive submission opposing the construction of levees around Lismore in 1994, warning then flood mitigation authority the Richmond River County Council [RRCC] of several failures in its plans.

The county council had failed to consider climate change impacts, BSEC said, and the possibility of higher floods.

The RCCC was creating a ‘false sense of security’ about the level of protection the levee gave households and businesses in the Lismore basin, said Dr Corkill.

How many mil for new levees?

‘A new levee for the CBD would need to be five times the existing barrier’s height,’ Dr Corkill said, and ‘the levees elsewhere would have to be built from scratch’. He said budget forecasts nearly 30 years ago showed costs of more than $22 million.

John Corkill

‘The evidence of [ex-Cyclone] Debbie and this “rain bomb” flood shows that building levees is a failed strategy and a public policy folly’, said Dr Corkill. ‘For the Lismore Mayor and Page MP to announce they want more public funds for “more of the same”, is quite simply staggering’.

Dr Corkill criticized Lismore’s new mayor for ‘overstepping his authority’, and ‘ignoring proper process under existing law’.

‘Decisions on post-flood mitigation response are for the current flood mitigation authority, the Rous County Council. The Lismore City Council, like all councils on the Rous County Council, had only two members,’ said Dr Corkill, ‘and the Mayor is not a delegate’.

Mayor accused of pecuniary interest in Lismore CBD recovery

Lismore City Mayor Steve Krieg. Photo Tree Faerie.

Dr Corkill said it was ‘highly inappropriate’ for Cr Krieg to be advocating for, or seeking to determine the direction of, any public funding for the flood mitigation response in the CBD owing to his ‘business interests’.

‘Like all CBD business-owning councillors, the mayor has a direct pecuniary interest.’

Cr Krieg had to fully declare his financial interests, not participate in the debate and absent himself from the vote on all matters for decision by Council ‘where millions of dollars of public funds investment would, or may, benefit’ him personally, said Dr Corkill.

‘That’s the law, and the mayor ought to know that.’

Dr Corkill said the mayor needed to learn what his ‘actual responsibilities’ were, including to ‘the whole of Lismore, not just the CBD’.

Page MP Kevin Hogan announcing $2m to fix local roads nearly four years ago. (Darren Coyne)

Page MP told to stay out of levee talk

Federal Page MP Kevin Hogan’s comments were also ‘flawed’ and ‘deeply problematic’, acccording to Dr Corkill.

‘Under current law, flood mitigation is not a federal government responsibility,’ he said, ‘so it’s clearly not Mr Hogan’s call either’.

‘This “more of the same” failed strategy usurps Rous County Council’s role, pre-empts any rational assessment of future flood mitigation options, and compromises community input into decisions about flood mitigation, and spending of public funds, by the lawful public authority,’ Dr Corkill said.


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42 COMMENTS

  1. Hi

    why are you interviewing a Big Scrub Environment Centre person, they are not a hydrological engineer or a civil engineer, to rebut against a possible solution to a major flooding issue.

    If the existing levy is at about 10m and the recent flood was 14.4m, how would raising the levy say 5-metres be equal to 5 times the existing levy height? does this person know how to use a calculator ? it would be 0.5 times the existing levy.

    why are humans so bad when we create, build and design solutions to problems. I bet people go to Egypt and look at the pyramids, or go to Rome and look at the aquaducts in amazement, but its bad for us not to build a higher levy….absolutely crazy position to take.

    • One view, though trying to control that amount of water (or potentially more) is naive in the view of many.

      i.e. 15 metre wall and river rises to 16 metres, the result would be catastrophic……..again. That’s just one wall.

      The other side of town would be smashed….again. Two walls to contain that amount of water……? That is simply crazy, a hazard for aircraft!

      Businesses that can be agile is one thing, but residing in the path of such danger is a completely different story.

      Land swap rural grazing land for residential appears to be the most sensible solution yet.

      Let’s press Govt for proper public consultation long before decisions are made.

      Had we sought advice from the real locals way back when, we could have avoided this mess!

    • I am assuming the error was Corkill meant mass / volume not heigth. The problem with EVERY levee ever built and it gets worse with a higher levee is complacency. Complacency is such a factor that the times a levee is breached the econimc cost is greater than all savings from previously levee prevented floods.

  2. Dr Corkhill has spoken out strongly and is correct on all accounts.
    Kevin is just looking for the ‘ultimate’ pork barrel. The Mayor is still learning meeting procedure so it is not a surprise that he does not grasp the limits of his jurisdiction.
    Building two levee walls is likely to transfer businesses literally; Bunnings floating to Coraki comes to mind.

  3. ‘Walls’, wherever there is a man made problem involving water, everyone wants the magic bullet solution of a… ‘Wall’.
    Nepean / Hawkesbury floodplain needs protection by adding a 14metre ‘Wall’ on top of existing Warragamba Dam
    Collaroy / Narrabeen beach erosion needs protecting by building The Great ‘Wall’ of Collaroy.
    Lismore floodplain needs protecting by building a never seen before great big new ‘Wall’.

    Building permanent structures in the wrong places is long term folly, as we see repeating over and over again.
    Grantham, Lockyer Valley twigged to the idea that humans should get out of the way of floods – land swaps relocating residents in flood affected land, to higher ground.

    • I’m not suggesting walls to deal with this woman made problem.
      I want to punch holes in hills and dig drainage canals.
      D9 Bulldozers are a lot more fun than Cement trucks.
      Build a second river I say.

      • Yep budd ur totally on th money lismore has 2 rivers running into it just divert 1 into a man made new river an make it meet th see somewear north of lennox heads ..
        An now for you neigh sayers ” just remember tht thy wanted to pump water from th top of the Clarence river years ago an send it out west coz they were in drought an were running out of water . So anything can be done …..

      • Move Leycester Creek through a large “channel” down western side of Lismore Airport to at least help alleviate the issue of water confluence with Wilsons River right near the Browns Creek pump station. The idea of flood mitigation really does need to consider the reason flood plains already exist (well before continuing climate change became the big bad excuse used by all and sundry). The idea of a large walled channel 16 or so metres high running through town may be a bit audacious.

  4. Water is a tricky beast – it always find the weakest link in any containment structure and, in the process, annuls the ‘protection. Levees only work in mild scenarios where you don’t really need them.
    Steve Krieg is a fool talking as he did. What did we expect from him in the first place? Lismore needs to be re-built on higher ground. As crazy as that sounds, it is the only option to prevent recurring disasters that will become more and more frequent. The city is not alone there – a lot of other river towns and coastal communities will become unihabitable over coming decades.
    Let’s face it: The party is over – now is time to pay for the indulgences and climate change inaction of the past. Thank you Tony, Scott, Angus, Barnaby, Peter and the mates!

    • While kreig and his family are down town serving free coffee out of a caravan having lost their business and home what have you been doing Mike? Conversing with the fairy’s at the bottom of your garden no doubt, be warned Mike those little scallywags don’t always tell the truth.

      • Phil, Mike just made a contribution by talking sense about the folly of rebuilding in the floodplain all over again – a necessary contribution

    • That’s what Gunnedah did. Moved the town centre away from the river. Granted, they should have moved it another block or so further, but now when it floods, less residents & businesses are effected & essential services like supermarkets are not affected.
      Note: i moved from Northern Rivers & was here for the recent floods in Gunnedah.

  5. Good on you Jack Corkill for calling the Mayor’s and Member for Pages bullshit.
    This is our new paradigm, more and more severe weather events.
    The BoM are predicting this El Ninia event to last until August with a better than 70% chance of another flood in that period.
    Serious consideration must be given to removing the CBD and the residents of North and South Lismore up onto the Alstonville Plateau as the only way to avoid repeats of this tragedy. Once it is done we will never have to deal with another flood .
    Yes it would be very costly, but what is the cost of replacing the homes and businesses and other damaged infrastructure plus the cost of levies and river straightening only to have it happen again ?

    A modern House costs about $500,000 to build, but there are cheaper housing alternatives available.
    A modern Metal framed and zincalum clad shed makes a very viable shell for a comfortable , weather proof home at a reasonable cost once lined and insulated. They come in many shapes and sizes . $ 120,000 would just about cover the cost.
    If the Government provided the land and gave grants or no interest loans the residents of low lying areas of Lismore could be reaccomadated in a reasonable time frame.

  6. Yes indeed sanity from Simon and others. My thoughts are what happens downstream when flood levees funnel masses of water at speed elsewhere? the solutions of the past for flood mitigation were for farmers do dig channels to get rid of the flood water quickly – same as Lismore Mayor ‘s ideas. Result massive flooding downstream, fish kills, dead water for six months with no fishing or swimming permitted. Remember that?
    Don’t think of just your desire; think of the whole catchment.
    Rous Water is indeed the responsible authority but the irresponsible way they have been behaving about Dunoon Dam lately doesn’t give me much comfort. Better to agitate for an independent expert body to manage, maybe even national body paid for by the feds? Note: genuine question. Rous Water management do not apply.

    • Somebody else that likes D9 Bulldozers.
      This is what I’ve been advocating. That’s exactly what we rural people do.
      It’s called a drainage problem.
      Build a ditch.

  7. John Corkhill is absolutely correct, and Mick, you show clearly that you have no grasp of hydrology either.

    If you try to compress all that water spread across both floodplains (cbc and south/north) into one side (and you are willing to condemn one side of the river in the process), then you double the five metre depth of water seen on the two floodplains. Ten metres deep in north/south to protect the cbd. Plus more if there is a higher flood. Plus three new bridges as the earth berm levee system will be higher than them. Plus land resumptions on a massive scale to attempt to do it safely.

    If you try to do two levees, as Steve Krieg stupidly suggested, then you have to compress the whole of both floodplains (5metres x 2km wide) into a 100 metre wide river channel. Very, very high! Impossibly high where 10 metres high is a massive tsunami risk.

    John Corkhills statement about conflict of interest re Steve Krieg and Kevin Hogan also applies to any other political representative(s) with a vested interest in the floodplain, conspicuously including Janelle Saffin (and possibly more – Sue Higginson?). It is a pity John only selectively mentioned the politicians acting in this way despite conflict of interest

  8. As usual Corkill is full of vindictiveness and malice he’s an expert at that ,just falls short of answers or answers that make sense that is.

    • Phil, John is correct about what is not an answer – and the ongoing discussion that is needed must start with recognition of the truth of what he said

  9. Change Lismore CBD into a fabulous water park . Children’s section with big slides etc, another section paddle boats etc, another section made-made surf waves as in Melbourne,
    Keep the fabulous population of Lismore and the wonderful ra he of business by building a new residential and industrial Lismore previnct on higher ground as close as possible but in much much higher ground.
    People might hate me for this so best if you don’t print my name.

  10. How about you all grow up or grow a brain.
    Place was built on a floodplain, next to a river.
    What would John corkill do then?
    Other than call out past failures does he have any creative solutions?
    Move cbd to goonellabah?
    How long have most of your commentators lived here?
    Dams levees walls all short term solutions in face of climate change mass rain events.
    If you want to live there think creatively.

    • Of course I have practical creative solutions… but no one has asked me for my views on a MUCH better approach… so don’t verbal me like I’m some unschooled fool thanks Jenny… btw am busy pointing to absurd idea Hogan and Krueger are pushing quite inappropriately … and until we have recovered and carried out a rational post flood review… any ideas or plans are premature and preemptive… Early results are in though and there can be no rational doubt the levee failed to protect CBD and 100s of houses in the basin… it is a failed strategy… game over. do not insert further public money…

  11. The levee built around Murwillumbah’s CBD saved the town. This is direct evidence that they do work. I think also the Dutch have done ok with them as well. The Murbah levee was built in response to the 74 flood. The shire engineer and a dedicated and skilled team did the design and got on with the job. No BS, just good science and engineering. No flood has entered the CBD since. The hydro guys told me that the Murbah levee adds only 5 cm to the expected flood heights outside the immediate zone of influence around the CBD levee. This plus a buy out scheme of flood risk properties and also rebates for house lifting at the time is a wonderful example of common sense, good quality engineering design , and local government management . Sadly today such people no longer exist in local gov or halls of parliament and practical solutions are never employed. We are all too busy ensuring that everybody gets a say so that nobody loses or gets offended. In the end nothing is ever done properly and us Aussies stumble from one shambles to the next. But hey, at least my ideology is still respected!

    • Amen Will. It is the realm of hydrologists and civil engineers (before they called them directors of envirowhatever). The engineering science is solid and event based, but meteorologists keep observing events of greater rainfall intensity and duration (how dare they) and hence the design goalposts are shifted. The catchment areas are one of the few constants, unless you build a dam. Thank Hughey for Wivenhoe.

  12. John Corkhill is right on the mark. We need much more informed debate on this issue – Lismore has refused to have this discussion in the past. In the interests of a quality debate, could we please LEAVE OUT THE PARTISAN POLITICKING! I suspect Steve Krieg and Kevin Hogan are not the only people with vested interests in a levee, eg. Janelle Saffin’s office is smack on the flood plain too.

  13. Mick you Obviously don’t know Lismore flood structures… Before levee, floods entered CBD at 10m AHD… a wall just over 1m was built… and after levee floods cascade over levee in front of the old Police Station at just under 11m AHD… That’s one metre higher flood level. The ‘rain bomb’ flood waters went 3+m over the levee in flood of 14.4m… so a four metres increase in height of levee to 15m would need a wall five repeat 5 times as high as current failed levee to (not) protect CBD or houses in downtown basin… so it’s your maths that’s wrong not mine buddy… and thanks for being so respectful with your comment…
    Btw I’ve lived through a great many floods at various places in Lismore since 1974… and followed the public debate on this levee nonsense for over 40 years since Gordon Blair was Mayor… that’s a fraction of my local cred… what’s yours? cheers jc

  14. I have to agree with Mr Corkill. I’ve lived in Lismore all my life and have witnessed the destruction of many a flood. The impact of floods are costly on many levels from financial to mental health. After this event it is imperative a discussion is brought back to the table of moving the town to higher ground. The devastation on the ground at present is catastrophic. Not only have people lost property and livelihoods but devastatingly their lives. I have lost someone very dear to me. Building a levy is not going to save the people of North Lismore, South Lismore, Coraki or Woodburn. Brisbane is having the conversation of a buy back plan for flood prone land. It’s critical to now to entertain other solutions.

  15. Is there a development proposal before council for the north plateau? Could we simply recognise that Lismore gets flooded regularly and move the downtown area? That would make a spectacular park and we would not be yelling at insurance companies and begging governments for funds every few years. Kevin Hogan and the mayor are just pointing to a symptom rather than recognising that their proposals are a band aid until the next flood and moving the effect downstream.

  16. You are so right John. I’ve just got mail from Murwillumbah, Grafton and McLean. They want to swim in solidarity with Lismore and be getting all the disaster payments instead of carrying as normal, safe and dry behind their levees. And Kempsey, Gurya, Taree, Maitland. Charleville, St George, Wagga Wagga, Launceston, Bunderberg, Tamworth, Walgett and many other towns across Australia are telling me the same – ‘After hearing from that brilliant new hydrologist Mr Corkill, we intend to start dynamiting our levees tomorrow’. Even the Dutch are getting on board – ‘We want to drown in the thousands like our grandparents did in 1953’.
    Jokes aside John, you should have refrained from assuming and have got your facts right before breaking your media drought. There are no plans to raise the puny CBD levee to 14.5 metres. Our new Mayor is highly stressed, having lost his business and his home, hasn’t been fully briefed, so he gave the wrong impression.
    Since 2017 the Lismore Flood Plain Management Committee has been investigating (at a snails pace) a number of options. Apart from removing the railway embankments and other minor earth works in the airport floodway, one of the options is to raise the CBD levee by about 400mm to 11.4m – not 14.5m. The investigation is ongoing. Currently being looked at are a raft of ‘Nature Based Solutions’ and upper catchment retention basins. These are all still options, not plans or proposals. On the present timetable, no selections as to which options will be pursued and presented to council for their decision, will be made until some time next year. If upper catchment retention proves to be effective enough then there may be no need to raise the CBD and South Lismore levees by a modest 400mm.
    So John, you have declared war prematurely against an enemy that isn’t nearly as big as you assumed. Best you go back into media hibernation or better still take the trouble to learn how hydrology really works.
    Graham Askey

    • What’s with the abuse Graham? Town bully or what. There are many people including Dr John who predicted the present situation — not you apparently. Study the issue, learn some manners and try to help a community instead of bullying your way along.

  17. Probably a [email protected]$4!t-crazy idea that can’t possibly work, but I will suggest it anyway. There are currently very high capacity pumps capable of moving large volumes of water at faster rates than the river rises. The problem is not CAN we move the water, but where would we move it to? The answer is to put the pipes and pumping stations in the rivers themselves (the entire length to the ocean) in order to pump the water out to sea at a greatly accelerated rate than it would normally flow out naturally. Could such a concept work or what am I not getting? Cheers

  18. great idea Beau Ravn remember any thing is possible with the right engineering skill and plans .The cost would be huge but if it worked it would save the town and also all the towns in the surrounding areas . I have grown up in lismore all my life and love the town greatly what is sad that flooding has been going on for years and we always talk about fixing problems but never really act correctly on the problem . What would be good if we all got together and worked together with people you are expects in flooding problem and got a solution that works and would stop the flooding once and for all

    • “remember any thing is possible with the right engineering skill and plans” but then , “The cost would be huge” ” but if it worked”
      I guess the BUT IF’s that are the conclusion of a lot of wild ideas .. and money down the gurgler.

  19. Have any hydrologists ever been consulted regarding management of Wilson River, the flood plain and/or the levee? I’ve only heard of engineers opinions,. Engineers construct things such as levees they are not specialists in water management & I wouldn’t think they have any particular knowledge of water flow, flooding etc

  20. There are a lot of people with a messianic complex; they want to play god with nature and turn back the tide and great rivers. However, going back to settlement, there were practical reasons coupled with a lack of historical knowledge that put towns where they are today — in flood paths. There has also been a lot of people coming up with engineering solutions and spending lots of public money to keep them there even though as we have seen — that hasn’t worked in a lot of cases. Every problem is different and we cant transplant an engineering success somewhere to Lismore and be successful. We just have to accept that our pioneering souls got it wrong in a lot of places and we have to accept it! Write it off and literally move on. It will take a while for that to sink in, a bit humbling but more sober .

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