As two locals choked up, there was uncomfortable foot shuffling by Byron Shire Mayor, Michael Lyon, a spokesperson for Resilience NSW, and an engineer who worked on the flood report for the Mullumbimby pod site.
They told the homeowners that their home will experience increased flooding in the future because of the works Resilience NSW is currently undertaking.
They were the owners of one of 13 properties nearby (11 identified in the report), that were finally told – after months of asking – that their worst fears had been realised.
They were told emergency housing for flood-affected ‘locals’ being put in place at Prince Street, Mullumbimby, would negatively impact their home, making the flooding worse for them in the future.
Two of these properties will now have increased above-floor flooding as a result of the fill.
In the February flood, the residents escaped the rising flood water in their house and found safety with a neighbouring family whose property was just above the floodline. They were then rescued by friends in a boat.
The SES had told them they didn’t know when they could rescue them, and suggested they climb on the roof – but there was nowhere safe to put a ladder as the water flowed through and around their house.
Moving, moving, moving
They said they have been ‘moving, moving, moving’, between family and friends since the flood, and recently secured a rental as they wait for their house to be gutted and rebuilt. They were hoping to move back in at the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, before their insurance support runs out.
‘What are we going to do?’ they asked the mayor.
‘We’ve been out of our house for nine months’ they said.
‘We understand that people need housing, we are one of those people. What are you going to do to make us feel safe? You’ve made it worse.
‘We know you know this. We feel sacrificial. We pay our rates, we’ve always been in front. Why was the study done after you put in the fill?’
This was a key question throughout the past nine months from the local community.
‘This community has been asking for the impacts since it started. Council, everyone else, told us nothing. They just went and filled it up’, said the homeowner.
‘I’ve only been part of the project for three months, but I acknowledge the lack of communication,’ said the Resilience NSW spokesperson.
‘We’ve been working closely with Cr Michael Lyon, [GM] Mark Arnold, and engineers. We wanted to make sure that Council was aligned with us because some people are impacted.’
‘We looked at a number of options,’ said the engineer.
‘Cross draining, swales etc. Our intent was to manage and mitigate an increase in the flood level. We have looked at up to 25 different designs.
Unable to mitigate
‘We have tried to mitigate and we haven’t been able to. There are two homes that will have an increase in flooding. There are several that will have a decrease. That is why the report took so long to release.
‘About a month ago, the options were selected by Resilience NSW and Council. Option A was preferred. A solid fill pad just above the one-in-100-year flood level.’
The Resilience NSW spokesperson responded to questions over when the decision was made to fill the site, when the original discussion for housing on the site had centred around removable pods and caravans.
They said, ‘The fill was originally put on the site for stabilisation… It was done in parallel to this report.’
The Resilience NSW spokesperson said the lease for the site was two years, and could be extended to five years if needed.
They said if the fill was to be removed in two or five years, as required under the licence conditions, the risk to the current residents would be significantly reduced; but questions about removing the fill at the site remained unanswered.
Cr Lyon said that there had ‘been talk of houses and other purposes here for 20 years.’
‘One of the consequences is that there are up to 85 properties that are better off in the context of future flooding, in terms of their properties – they might not want the fill to be removed.
‘Those conversations [regarding future removal of fill] are not for right now.’
‘We are pretty gutted,’ said the homeowner.
‘We feel like we are being sold down the river. We’ve ended up being sacrificial.’
‘I’ve been pushing for the release of the flood report for a while,’ said Cr Lyon.
He then said, ‘My suggestion to you is to lobby the government and ask them to cover off on that liability on those two properties. That is a minuscule amount in the context of their budget. I don’t think that is a lot to ask for, that they accept liability in a future scenario.’
Councillor Duncan Dey, who was at the meeting at the request of the homeowners, suggested to Cr Lyon that they join together to put a formal Notice of Motion (NoM) to Council, on behalf of the 11 properties whose flood levels are being increased, to inform the state government that they should compensate the people without them having to go to court.
Cr Lyon has now put forward a Mayoral Minute for Thursday’s meeting, asking that: ‘Council advocate to the state government on behalf of the two properties impacted by above floor flooding by the temporary housing works in Prince Street… [and]
‘1) Cover them for future liability for damage to their properties in a flooding event that was caused by the works.
‘2) Consider them for a buyback under the Resilient Homes program’.
In related news, assessment around the potential for lead poisoning, owing to the disturbed soil on the site, is still unclear from government agencies.
Land managers of the site, Transport for NSW (TfNSW), have told The Echo that part of Lot 2 DP1121508 and Lot 2 DP223650, which is under lead contamination assessment by the EPA, ‘has been excluded from Resilience NSW’s licence area’.
‘Transport for NSW has provided copies of all environmental assessments and investigations completed in relation to the land.
‘Resilience NSW must undertake its own due diligence and any assessments/investigations in relation to the land to ensure it meets their requirements.
‘Resilience NSW is to implement all required controls to ensure the site is safe’.