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Byron Shire
May 20, 2024

Ballina Shire flood recovery ‘tracking very well’,  says mayor

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A bumper sticker has been spotted in the Ballina Shire and shared on local social media groups this week asking the all-too commonly heard question, ‘is Ross Lane open?’.

Seven days after floods hit Ballina for the second time in little more than a month, the road famous among locals for its susceptibility to flooding was re-opened in both directions.

Elsewhere in the shire this week, dead cows were reported in rivers and washed up on beaches and the council was warning against swimming and other recreational water activities in all natural environments.

‘Water quality remains poor or bad in most of our waterways,’ the Ballina Shire Council reported earlier this week, before explaining ‘poor or bad water quality’ as defined by bacteria levels showing a ‘substantially increased risk of illness to swimmers’.

‘The worst water quality is occurring within the rivers, Shaws Bay, and Lake Ainsworth,’ the council posted on its Facebook page, ‘however the ocean beaches are still presenting risks due to visible signs of pollution’.

One such sign appeared almost on cue: a photo of half a dead cow washed up on Shelly Beach.

Speaking to The Echo Thursday morning, Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader said NSW Public Works staff were busy disposing of the carcass and that any similar sightings should be reported to the council.

The mayor maintained a positive tone to her assessment of Ballina Shire’s recovery, a week after unprecedented flash flooding disrupted riverine flood recovery efforts.

Sewage pumps damaged in the shire were working again, Cr Cadwallader said, most roads were open and the council had nearly finished collecting flood waste from footpaths.

Potential room for up to 400 disaster survivors in Ballina

Whereas the Byron Shire was awash with stories of displaced people being turfed out of holiday homes and sent to Queensland to make way for Easter tourists, Cr Cadwallader said the issue wasn’t so significant in the Ballina Shire.

The NSW government had asked local governments on the Northern Rivers to suggest land that could be used for temporary emergency accommodation, Cr Cadwallader said, and the Ballina Shire Council had suggested two sites independent of land it hoped could be used for social housing.

The mayor said it was too early to disclose where the sites were but if approved, between 50 and 400 people could be accommodated in mobile homes in the Ballina Shire.

Cr Cadwallader said twenty mobile cabins from Lismore were already available and another thirty had been sourced from Anna Bay further south near Port Stephens.

Using church and town halls to temporarily accommodate disaster survivors, as suggested by independent Byron Shire Councillor Mark Swivel this week, didn’t appeal to the mayor as a practical solution.

‘I don’t think they serve a great purpose to be perfectly honest,’ Cr Cadwallader said, ‘because most of the halls do not have showering facilities and you’ve got people all in one room all together’.

National resilience commissioner to visit Ballina

Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader. Photo David Lowe.

‘We’re still monitoring land slips,’ Cr Cadwallader said when asked for a general overview of the shire post-flooding, ‘and we still have 350 people a day coming through the waste centre’.

‘We still haven’t got the Burns Point Ferry back in action yet but we’re hoping to have that signed off within the next couple of days,’ the mayor said.

‘The ADF are winding down their presence in Ballina [but] the recovery centre is still operating and will operate for as long as we need it to.’

The Ballina Shire Council’s finance committee met earlier in the week, Cr Cadwallader said, and agreed to prioritise hydrological studies in areas of the shire that experienced unprecedented flash flooding last week.

Alstonville and Lennox Head as well as parts of Ballina were inundated when a record-breaking rain bomb hit the region and stormwater drains couldn’t cope.

‘Whatever remediation works are required, that will happen,’ Cr Cadwallader said.

‘In fact, I’m taking Shane Stone, the federal resilience commissioner, around with the council engineer next week on a tour of mitigation works that are required for Ballina Shire,’ she said.

‘I just want to articulate how money coming forward would be able to help us mitigate against future events.’

Ballina Shire swimming pools open

Ballina Memorial Swimming Pool  (Image: Ballina Shire Council)

Returning to the impending holiday season in the Ballina Shire and warnings from the council about water quality, the mayor said messaging would be shared with holiday accommodation providers.

‘It could take several weeks before harmful bacteria and debris is flushed and [this] will depend on further rainfall in the region,’ the council warned earlier this week.

Traditional alternatives to lakes, rivers and oceans were waterholes and waterfalls inland, but the risk of landslips and contamination in those waters meant tourists would probably need to focus on dry alternatives.

‘We’ve got lovely walks,’ Cr Cadwallader said, ‘we’ve got lots of things that people can do still without putting themselves at any danger or risk where the floodwaters have been and still are’.

Anyone determined to go swimming could take advantage of the Ballina Shire Council swimming pools, the mayor said.

The public swimming pool and waterslides in Ballina were unaffected by recent floods and were open, as was the aquatic centre in Alstonville, which Cr Cadwallader said featured heated waters and ‘a good coffee shop’.

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