community

Hill of discontent

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By Michelle Pini

Photo by Claire Pini

Published in Warrandyte Diary

Amidst growing community discontent and media criticism about ongoing local government rate increases and charges, Manningham council has voted in favour of a ‘special charge scheme’ to develop an underground drainage system in Melbourne Hill Road.

The controversial scheme will require 107 householders to contribute up to 50 per cent of the approximate $2.1M plan, which aims to address flooding in six households.

A community reference panel set up by council to review issues in the troubled catchment, rejected the scheme put forward by Manningham council officers. Community disapproval to the scheme was also reinforced in a council-instigated resident opinion survey. As well, overwhelming community opposition has been voiced in countless emails, letters and via social media channels.

The following samples indicate the extent of community frustration about this issue: 

Council recommended that we set up a Rep Panel for the MHR Catchment Area … it appears now, it may have been established to create a false sense of community involvement.”

“I believe the Council simply wants to remove its liability to insurance companies by addressing the potential flooding of just five properties.”

“In 2011, a once-in-a-100-year storm event caused flooding of six properties … Council’s sledgehammer solution is to spend $1M of all Manningham residents’ rates, raise another $1M via a special charge on 120 houses in the Melbourne Hill catchment, and cut a swath through Warrandyte’s precious bush to install an underground stormwater drainage system.”

In a media statement to the Diary, Manningham council CEO Joe Carbone said, “given the scale of this project, the proposed financial cost and the passion of residents,” he was not surprised by the opposition to the scheme.

Mr Carbone explained: “Council must consider the overall need for the works, which necessarily takes account of the extent and severity of property flooding.”

Following a detailed alternative proposal by the community reference panel, Manningham council officers made a few adjustments to the original plan and recommended its adoption. At the March council meeting, Manningham Council voted in favour of the officers’ proposal, by five votes to four.

Cr Stephen O’Brien led the call to proceed with the council officers’ proposal, citing open drains in “urban” areas as presenting a high risk of failure. Cr Gough also pointed to the need for “council to act in a timely manner”. Mayor Grivokostopoulos, Cr Haynes and Mullum Mullum ward’s Cr Meg Downie also voted in favour of the scheme.

Residents have repeatedly criticized the council officers’ contention that the issue needed a swift solution, pointing to many years of council neglect and lack of maintenance. They have also highlighted the need to approach the solution with Warrandyte’s semi-rural environment in mind.

Deputy Mayor and Mullum Mullum ward councillor, Sophy Galbally upheld the resident view. Cr Galbally moved for a deferral of the draft management plan, pointing out that a council resolution was reached in March 2013 instructing officers to cost an alternative option. “We have ended up with the same plan, presented as an alternate plan, by the same officers,” she said.

Cr Galbally cited the need to maintain Warrandyte’s unique, non-urban, semi-rural topography, and the dangers of placing water underground due to its high fire-risk status. She asserted that in order to make an informed decision, “an external assessment by a hydrologist or water management expert should be sought to determine the most sustainable water management option for flood mitigation in the environmentally sensitive catchment”.

Cr Galbally had also earlier urged fellow councillors to delay the decision and seek available funding from Living Victoria for a solution more in keeping with Warrandyte’s non-urban environment.

Cr Galbally was supported by uproarious applause from the gallery, which was filled with community members.

Former Mayor Cr Jennifer Yang, Cr Kleinert and Mullum Mullum ward’s Cr McLeish joined Cr Galbally and voted against the scheme.

Cr Galbally’s suggestion to apply for state government funding was rejected in the council officers’ report, which recommended:

“An application for funding through the office of Living Victoria not be pursued at this time in respect of the Melbourne Hill Road project, given the associated delays to the delivery of an appropriate drainage solution in council’s currently most significantly flood affected catchment.”

The report also identified the Bolin Bolin Billabong Integrated Water Management project as needing priority for funding. Mr Carbone said:

“By comparison, the Melbourne Hill Rd catchment is steeper and less conducive to a whole of water cycle management approach.”

With regard to Cr Galbally’s motion to seek external expert advice, Mr Carbone advised that this was not considered necessary:

“Council officers are well credentialed to address the technical issues with a long history of successful implementation of whole of water cycle management projects,he said.

Mr Carbone added that the “severity” of flood damage in 2011, “the risk that insurers could refuse future flooding claims” and the “lack of a feasible and workable, sustainable … management solution,” necessitated an underground drainage system.

Spokesperson for the residents group, Peter Hookey told the Diary:

“It was extremely disappointing for the packed house of concerned residents who attended the Council meeting. If the proposed scheme goes ahead, the amenity and ecology of the whole area will be permanently changed with trees cut, roots severed and fauna affected. Cr Sophy Galbally’s call for a sustainable, environmental alternative, utilising current experts in water management as well as available state government funding, could have been a showpiece of sustainable water management – a perfect fit for Warrandyte.”

The community reference panel is investigating legal advice on behalf of the residents.

Manningham Council is expected to vote on the next stage of the proposal, a special charge scheme to fund the project, at a later date.

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