Monday, 1 December 2008

The rains are a coming

No Council or regional town could have a better public advocate for the environment than Terry Spackman.
Terry has a wealth of environmental management and community activism under his kaki belt.
In a scathing email to Val Schier, Terry reminds the Mayor the support he offered her, so long as she acted in the interests of the environment. However, like thousands of locals that supported Val Schier and a change of local Government in Cairns, they have yet to see much evidence of a 'greener' mayor leading this city.
"The last time we met was at a meeting of the Greens, Terry Spackman writes to the Mayor. "When we spoke, I gave you an undertaking that I would not publicly criticise Cairns Regional Council officers for failing to enforce development approval conditions."
Terry's public environmental scrutiny is well-respected and acknowledged around the region for many years. The 70-year-old campaigner has always been at the forefront of public debate and activism to expose poor development controls on building and excavation sites.

Spackman said to Schier that when he gives his word, he intends to keep it. However, he now questions the wisdom of giving the mayor the undertaking to not publicly criticise Council staff under her watch. Spackman believes Val Schier has had enough time to get her hands dirty at the job.

"Yesterday afternoon I saw Moody Creek carrying a heavy sediment load," Terry said. "Today, I found that the source of that sediment, was a development at Kanimbla Heights."

Photos show what a large area of soil is exposed to erosion. The sediment control devices are of a type that experience has shown to be totally useless. There are no erosion controls to be seen, nor a Storm Water Management Plan.
"This development would not comply with the most basic erosion and sediment control principles, Spackman told the Mayor. "I challenge anyone to show me otherwise."

This photo was taken at Kanimbla Heights three years ago. Nothing has changed as we face the next wet season head on.
"I, along with many others, supported you and your team because there was a promise of change," Terry Spackman said to Val Schier in the email. "Many of us are now thinking, there is too much 'business as usual' and not enough 'change'."

"Why shouldn't the public know that Cairns Regional Council officers are allowing developers to pollute the waterways, and ultimately the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park? Why shouldn't people know their rates are paying people not do their job properly?"

Spackman suggest that is Council officer Larry Maloy had done his job, we would not have to spend ratepayers money to fix the massive problems at False Cape. "There would be no problems at False Cape," Terry says. "I warned [former Councillor] Fran Lindsey and Larry of these problems long before I exposed them to the public."

"Until you can show me that Council officers are enforcing development approval conditions, I withdraw the undertaking I gave you," Spackman told the Mayor.
Three days after Terry sent the email to Mayor Val Schier, late on Sunday, she replied.
"I am just catching up with emails after a very busy week," Val wrote in haste. "I hope that you logged this in the Residents Response system at the time so that officers would have been aware."
This appears to be the regular reply from Councillors, and certainly Val, to address complaints about poor environmental management by the Council which she now heads. She told Terry in another email some months ago, to 'ensure he reports issues' to Council. This is a simple way to avoid the question at hand. Sure this is a big subject and one that can't be solved in five minutes, however it should be one of the top five issues pinned to her $160,000 mayoral office.
"I will pass on the information and ask for it to be investigated," Val said. "It is not possible for council officers to monitor all developments all the time so it is vital that people like you bring breaches to the attention of officers," The Mayor wrote.
"I am sorry if I am not able to implement the change that you want. As I said previously, I am one person who is doing my best to deal with a myriad of problems and issues."
And that was that. Implementing this change was not possible? What on earth does Val take us for? She campaigned for 8 months on the environmental ticket, this would have been one change that she could have made, hung her hat on and claimed a victory over her predecessor.
We've seen Val Schier vote against some the the very things she stood for in running for office. She endorsed and voted for GlenCorp's 500-apartment complex on the site of the old Woree movie drive-in site, although Councillors Pyne and Cooper voted against, citing among other concerns, the current roading infrastructure was totally inadequate. Val said at the time she voted in support because it was within the existing requirements of the CairnsPlan. She later recounted to the Cairns Post, that it was one decision that she didn't like the most in her first 100 days in office.
I recall Val saying that more sustainable and better building for our community was something high on her agenda if elected, yet her voting pattern is telling a different story.
Just last week, when approving a development near Palm Cove, where Hedley is ripping apart the Paradise Palms golf course - the 9th green actually - Val voted in support of this highly controversial development. She'd already had two meetings with the Combined Beaches Community Association, and been provided with substantial background material why this was a bad development. There were even compromises where some of the sensitive vegetation could have been retained.
Councillors Leu, Cochrane, Forsyth, Lesina and Pyne voting against the motion. If Schier, the only other 'environmental' Councillor on the Council, voted with them and supported the northern beaches community that largely got her elected, the motion would have been squarely defected.
Many are becoming increasing angry that the Mayor is far from green in her voting. Many commentors on CairnsBlog have voiced out-rage.
"Oh what a blunder. Our Mayor has just shot herself in the foot big time, and killed off all that hard won support on the Northern Beaches," said one.
"Her [Paradise Palms] decision, I hope she will learn to regret big time. Her position as Mayor is now untenable and no doubt short lived. We have a Mayor who did not support the Cairns Plan in a major rezoning approval that involves the destruction of part of one of the most premier golf courses in Australia and reduced protection for the significant conservation areas on the surrounding land. Instead, she rolled over, in favour of a developer whose proposal is worth $500 million dollars, that's right, $500 million," the Blog commenter said.
"To be honest, I'm gobsmacked," Terry Spackman said of Val Schier's response. In another anti-envirnoment move, the Mayor who loudly raised the discussion the joys in pre-election times of saving and protecting heritage, decided to not utter a single word about the historic Cairns Yacht Club.
However, what happened next is rather interesting. 48 hours after Val emailed this reply to Terry Spackman, a press release was issued. Now Val Schier made no reference to this at all in her email. It appears she was simply not across what was planned or this was a five minute 'pr reaction' stunt.
Council issued a statement saying that they would launch a new erosion and sediment control team, and they would issue on–the-spot-fines. Stunning. You'd have to argue that Schier was not informed of this, or it simply was not a strategic plan to launch such a team. If this new team was a serious attempt by Council, then it certainly could not of been planned overnight.
"A new team dedicated to enforcing erosion and sediment controls are out in force this week assessing individual building sites, new subdivisions and major development sites," the Council statement read. "The sub-unit of Cairns Regional Council’s Environmental Protection Unit has been established in response to an increasing number of complaints from the community related to erosion and sediment runoff from development sites."

If a breach of the Environmental Protection Act or the Integrated Planning Act is found, they would issue instant fines. Now, if this Council are serious, this process needs to be open and transparent. These breaches should be publicly identified. However, I doubt this grand new action team will be effective nor do what it claims, as much as we need such policing.
It's odd that Val Schier claimed this couldn't be done, and just hours later a whole new team is announced and dispatched on the streets!

Schier is also quoted in the midnight press release. "The State Government has recently announced increased regulation of the farming sectors to protect the Barrier Reef, so it is important that Council ensures erosion risks from building sites are minimised."

The highly-criticised chief town planner and acting CEO Peter Tabulo says that breaching the Environmental Protection (Water) Policy could cost builders between $300 - $600. "Fines for non-compliance with the Integrated Planning Act range from $750 for an individual and $3750 for a corporation," he says.

In January penalties will 'increase dramatically' they tell us. Up from $75 to $100. “In addition to the increases in penalties, the new Regulation will further define what is considered to be contaminates to waterways, with an increase in the types of substance prohibited from entering Council's stormwater system,” Tabulo said.

The Erosion and Sediment Control Team will erect signs reminding builders and contractors to ensure sediment erosion controls, waste management and armoured entrances are applied on each building site. Whoopie. We'll need more than a few signs that will be washed downstream in the next rain Peter.

Two public meeting will be held at Council's reception room. One at 9am on the 15 December. This is for statutory compliance on subdivisions and aimed at builders, contractors and earth moving companies. The other will be at 5:30pm on 17 December to discuss roles and responsibilities of Council’s Environmental Protection unit. It will also talk about how the community can be report environmental incidents.
Like Terry, I'm cynical that this new policing will either be vigilant, effective or transparent. I hope they prove us wrong.

5 comments:

Al said...

Frankly, some of Val Shier's decisions since being elected Mayor have concerned me - but none more than her vote in favour of the Paradise Palms development.
Just before the election I had a letter published in The Cairns Post criticising the previous Byrne administration for its unfettered development policy stating we needed a controlled and transparent process for development at a rate which had broad community support and with which the community was comfortable.
Val Shier phoned me with profuse thanks telling me I had written exactly what she would have liked to say. It was encouraging. At the very least, we could expect support for the Cairn's Plan. AND NOW THIS!
Val Shier has just voted to ammend Cairns Plan to advantage Hedley Constructions against the wishes of the Combined Beaches Community Association of residents - the very people who elected her to power.
What can she be thinking of?

Wendy Richardson said...

I would like CairnsBlog readers to know that inmy capacity as LNP's Candidate for Barron River, I have noted with concern the latest issues raised about sediment and erosion control.

I have sent the links and some questions to David Gibson the LNP's Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development for further
comment/investigation.

As Parliament is sitting this week I do not expect a response from David until next week.

Meanwhile, I encourage anyone who has further information to contact me on 4034 2248 or at wendy@embracethechange.net.au

Al said...

Here's one for you Wendy. Last week when we had the first BIG rainstorm of the season (3 inches in an hour at Redlynch), the Freshwater Creek at Ryan Weare Park was thick with red mud sediment (aka developers dye). There must have been hundreds of tons of soil from the Redlynch Valley washed downstream to the Barron River and into the Coral Sea on that one day alone. There is always lots of hand-wringing, lots of promises of action on this issue - and lots of excuses as to why it (repeatedly) happens. But even Blind Freddie knows why: No enforcement and no punitive penalties for the big developer polluters. They run this town. Good luck, you'll need it.

Quickie said...

Al ... Freshwater Stream has ALWAYS run red after a good rain.

All that IRON is good for fish food plants.

Have a look around where you live now.

That was DEVELOPED once upon a time ...

Never trust a thin chief ...

Graham said...

Once again Quickie you are talking through that back passage you have an obvious fetish about after reading some of your previous posts. You are obviously a recent blow in to Cairns because in the the past I had never seen the Freshwater creek run red during the wet until the developments started in Redlynch Valley. And I can go back to the days when the Brinsmead Glen area was still a cane farm. Your intellectual capacity to comprehend reality is sadly becoming more obvious with every posting you make.