A large group of West Ballina residents are alarmed about a DA which has been submitted to Ballina Shire Council by the Emmanuel Anglican College in Horizon Drive. The proposal, for a STEM and Digital Technology Centre, is planned for a well-known flood-prone area which previously acted as part of a large retention pond.
The new EAC building is planned to sit on three metres of fill, which residents fear will act to worsen flooding on surrounding streets. Neighbouring residents say recent building work has already contributed to their houses flooding earlier this year. Many of them have only recently heard about EAC’s latest expansion plans, with submissions to Ballina Council closing on 19 August.
Westland Drive resident Candy Tetley says she is not opposed to the school putting in additional classrooms, but is pleading for no more large scale landfill in the area, which is ‘blocking the water from collecting in the ponds over there, and pushing the water to our houses.’
She would like the EAC to consider raising the new building on stilts, or find another engineering solution.
Ms Tetley said that until the 2022 floods she had never had water in her garage or house, but now the water was coming much higher.
All in it together
Garry Lavercombe lives on Horizon Drive, and shares Ms Tetley’s concerns. He told The Echo, ‘Collectively, we’re here because of the drainage and the water problems we have in this area, due to the developments that have been made, and in particular, this new proposal to build yet another building on Emmanuel College.’
He said the affected area was well known as a catchment area for water, with Bunnings and the Emmanuel College Auditorium worsening local flooding since they were built on raised slabs.
‘Twenty odd years ago, when we all came here, we didn’t have any drainage problems at all.
‘Now with all of all of this development, the waters going to go somewhere. Where does it go? It goes here,’ said Mr Lavercombe.
‘Newland Street, Horizon, Claire Circuit, Westland Drive – we’ve all got problems with the drainage, because of all the developments now.’
Neighbour Val King says she was only notified about what was happening towards the end of July, although she’s since learned the DA has been in the works for quite a while.
Another neighbour says he only heard what was planned when he saw signs on the ground near Bunnings, when he was walking his dog.
Where’s the water going to go?
Local resident David Foster says numerous houses in the area are still heavily affected from the last flood, with internal walls removed and workers trying to restore services. He said that while the flooding had numerous causes, the development in West Ballina was clearly exacerbating the situation. ‘Where’s all that water going to go? It’s a massive issue.’
Neighbour Elizabeth Robinson says engineering reports confirm that slabs have shifted around houses after the last floods, under the weight of water, exposing residents to greater risk in future. ‘The compression has been incredible,’ she said.
‘I love my home. But now I’m afraid of the consequences of the flooding on the land that I bought,’ she said.
Local resident Vivienne Gorec said her house was inundated in the last flood. ‘I spoke to the guy I bought the house from seven years ago. He bought it new, and he’s never known the street to flood like that.’
She is convinced that the large developments associated with EAC are making a bad situation worse. ‘I’m over this bullshit that’s going on over here. They’re supposed to be Christians for Christ’s sake! Half the people in this whole estate have walls missing out of their houses. They’re living on concrete slabs, because those clowns want to make their school bigger.’
Ms Gorec doesn’t think stilts are the solution. ‘I don’t want them building anything. If I had my way, I’d bulldoze that eyesore on the end [the EAC auditorium] and take it back to the retention pond. They got the land cheap in the first place because there was a retention pond there. Then in 2013 they started filling it.’
She says that with Ballina DAs no longer being published in the local paper, ‘nobody knows anything about it until it’s happening.’
Garry Lavercombe says traffic and parking issues are already becoming overwhelming for local residents, with the pressure from the school.
He fears more development will make things worse. While he accepts that ‘it’s great for the town to develop and get more kids… it’s to the detriment of those of us that invested and live in this area’.
Rising stress levels are clearly a major problem for West Ballina residents. ‘People here have got PTSD now and severe anxiety because they don’t know what’s happening with their bloody houses!’ said Vivienne Gorec.
Neighbour Nell Hines concurs. ‘Yes, the PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] is terrible since this happened. I had water come into my place in Claire Circuit and water has never come that far before, ever.’
Local resident Cherrie Cairns attended the residents’ meeting with her two dogs. ‘We’ve just experienced two floods. Now it’s five months on and we’re living in a totally stripped home. My parents are in their 70s and they’re in a caravan.
‘The dogs are traumatized as well as the people because we had the army evacuate us and SES and multiple people coming in.
‘I also run a childcare business from home so I lost my business too.’
Local Eldon Wright says, ‘There’s people in this neighborhood that are still out of their houses because of the flood, which the school contributed to, in my opinion, by having such a big fill on our retention pond that has been there for years.
‘It was a bit of a shock that they now put up another proposal to do that. It’s fair enough if they own the land, and they wish to build on it, but I think engineering technology nowadays would allow them to build up a storey and have underneath completely clear.
‘They could have car parking underneath. We have all sorts of problems with parking here,’ said Mr Wright.
Fight not over
It seems clear that the West Ballina residents affected by the DA are not going to remain quiet about their concerns, with local councillors now being approached, along with Ballina MP Tamara Smith.
‘It’s all about getting someone that can do something,’ said Garry Lavercombe, his nose bleeding from the stress of it all.
There is more information about the DA here, although detailed plans and mapping were not publicly available at time of publication.
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