Monday 24 January 2011

What’s Cairns Council doing for flood protection

In the aftermath of massive and damaging flooding in Rockhampton and the greater Brisbane region, many residents in Cairns are rightly asking: what’s our Cairns Council doing for flood protection?

Mayor Val Schier defends her record about development approvals that could compromise flooding issues in face of criticism. She did not support a leisure waterpark development on the Barron River delta in 2009, when a majority of Council approved after expert recommendations not to.

Flooding is on our mind at the moment. Just look at what the Barron Falls are up to at the moment.

Local political activist Paul Drabble [pictured right with Mayor Schier] says that Cairns Regional Council Mayor Val Schier is an adamant proponent of Climate change and its effects, yet she is willing to spend $240 million of tax and ratepayer’s money to have a cultural precinct put on the waterfront site and Trinity Wharf.

Drabble claims that climate change advocates will admit that area will be under water within 30 years.

“If the mayor is such a believer in climate change then she is hypocritical if she allows the building and development of areas that are less than five feet above sea level at present or in a flood plain,” Paul Drabble says.

He asks if Council will be reviewing the possible flood-prone areas and upgrading the approval system to not allow houses to be built in areas of great danger. This is one of the serious questions that Brisbane residents now face, and it will be interesting to see the cat fight between insurance assessors and local South East Queensland Councils that have, since the massive and larger 1974 floods, subsequently approved substantial residential and commercial construction in known flood areas.

Over recent years, more and more development has occurred closer to waterways, often breaching the minimum requirements of the riparian corridor. This can be seen no more clearly than at Clifton Beach, alongside Deadman’s Creek. cairns Council was asked retrospectively to allow construction, then permitted the developer to dig the natural river and line it with cement. This atrocity can be seen from the Captain Cook Highway, just to the south of the BP service station. It was a disgrace for such an approval. There’s nothing more certain than another flood at this site.

So it's a good question if flood mapping for Cairns is up-to-date and takes in future possible rain events of greater than 100 year proportions.

“Has this map had large tidal variances added that could also impact on and adversely cause major issues with infrastructure as well as he lifestyles of the cairns population?” Paul Drabble asks. “Has Council investigated flood prevention measures for the Cairns airport, with maybe the use of levy banks to protect this major piece of infrastructure?”

The Cairns airport, now flogged off to a private owner after the State Government needed some dollars to pay the interest on the $80 billion State debt, it’s likely Council would not become party to such flood mitigation work.

What about the positioning of new water and waste infrastructure, taking into account possible flood inundation? The Northern Beaches site is not far from the low-lying Catanna Wetlands, would have to be a contender for serious flooding. Has the Queensland State Government done flood prediction mapping for the site of new hospital services on Edmonton’s Mann's farm?

Paul Drabble says there are many questions the residents of Cairns, who already live in flood-prone areas, are going to ask. These areas with the effect of climate change will greatly increase if the science is proven to be correct, which only time will prove.

The sprawling new southern suburbs, West of Edmonton's established village, is of concern.

So just what is our Council doing today to ensure this region does not fall victim to a similar fate that the South Queensland has endured? Is our river hydrology that different? Are we immune?

Division 3 Councillor Rob Pyne says everything approved has to be Q100 complainant. This was most certainly not the case when just over a year ago, a majority of Councillors ignored expert recommendations, including their own officer’s report, and gave the green light to the first large-scale commercial development on the Barron River Delta – at extensive flood plain immediately north of Cairns city, that covers 20 sq kilometers - that has forever been reserved as agriculture land. The waterpark approval has set a dangerous precedent.

I've written extensively about the history and hydrology of the mighty Barron River on CairnsBlog, especially in terms of the surrounding delta. Local sugar cane farmer and former Mulgrave Shire Councillor, Ross Parisi, has also been a regular commentator about the Barron River. He has seen first hand over the last 40 years, how the river changes course and takes control of the land. Parisi was a staunch advocate to cease any commercial development on the delta.

In 2009 Parisi called for a moratorium in light of the push by former Cairns Councillor, Paul Freebody, to build a large-scale adventure waterpark at the corner of Dillon Road and the Captain Cook Highway, just to the South of the Yorkeys Knob roundabout.

The delta has seen significant flooding when the banks of the Barron breached it's banks over the years, a number of times in the late 1970's the inundation was such, you could have taken a boat from Smithfield Shopping Centre, to Sheridan Street.

There are also questions on the south of Cairns. Councillor Robert Pyne says the planned hospital construction near Edmonton, Council does not have power to compel the State.

“Residents can search Council records before purchasing a property to see if it will flood,” Cr Pyne says. “Many properties in the old city areas do flood, indeed the first king tide of the year was just last Thursday at 9:30am and if there was very heavy rainfall at this time, you should see some minor flooding in the city.”

Pyne says that flood immunity in South Cairns is actually very good and that Brisbane will experience flooding again, and so will Cairns. He also defends the mayor to hold views different to others.

“Val [Schier] is just one vote on Council and in any event, at least on this issue, she is one of the Councillors who is 'living in the real world' and not suggesting any 'less stringent' requirements for short term economic benefit,” Rob Pyne says. “I will not name those who proposed a 'Q50 standard' for Cairns, suffice to say such approach would be inconsistent with anyone who wants to be seriously considered for the position Val currently holds.”

I think it's easy to assume the two or three Councillors Pyne is referring to.

Schier says Council has plentiful information about cyclone, disaster management and planning, including flood and storm surge maps, and says that Cairns Regional Council has recently been acknowledged by the United Nations as one of the world’s leading cities in its disaster planning.

Cairns Regional Council will be conducting community education and awareness sessions at the new Disaster Coordination Centre at Woree, so the general community is up to date with information and awareness of disasters.

“You [residents] can be assured that storm and tidal surges, and the impact of climate change will be taken into account with any waterfront planning and that we will not be constructing anything that is likely to be ‘underwater in 30 years’ as you inaccurately suggest,” Val Schier says.

The massive Barron Flood of January 1979

Val Schier says that one of the early decisions this current Council made in 2008 was to refuse a 400 lot subdivision at Bramston Beach.

"This was on low-lying ground and might have been a burden on future ratepayers in the region if allowed to proceed," Val Schier said last week. " Unfortunately, my views did not prevail when the decision was made to approve the [Freebody waterpark] development on the flood-prone Barron River delta, and I hope this decision does not come back to have an adverse impact on Council at some time in the future."

The unseasonal wet season weather has held up the completion of the Cairns Local Disaster Coordination Centre in Woree.

The facility is now completed and was recently opened to wide acclaim. And it's just in time for what is tipped to be a record wet including several cyclones.

The centre is situated above 1 in 100 year flood levels on Windarra Street, Woree and is rated to withstand a Category 5 cyclone - the first of its type in Queensland. Beside disaster co-ordination, the centre will also provide a training and education hub for our community, where school groups can learn how to improve our resilience when disasters hit. A fibre optic was laid to Council's offices in Spence Street, and allows for back-up data to a new and secure recovery room located.

With predictions for a hotter and wetter season this year, it looks like new residents will experience what the tropics is really like. Historically in the average cyclone season, four major cyclonic storms occur, however the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting at least six before this season is out.
  • CONTACT...
    Cairns Local Disaster Coordination Centre 4044 3377
    Barlow Park 4051 9701
    State Emergency Service (Cairns SES) 132 500


Anonymous said...

Although this map does not cover all of Cairns (especially the southern suburbs), it is a useful indicator of what areas could flood in the event of a storm surge:

Ross Parisi said...

Great posting Michael...the question that needs to be answered, "Do the authorities heed natures warning as delivered to others less fortunate or do we continue in our errant ways?"

Alison Alloway said...

We've known about climate change now for many years. However, there have been those who turned it into a political bunfight...memories...memories...Who can forget Malcolm Turnbull leaving the LNP in disgust, saying..."As the consensus on climate change science grows stronger, the Australian political CONSENSUS to action lessened." Now, all of a sudden......

Unknown said...

There is a development proposal for a "retirement village" at Kewarra Beach which is to come before council's P&E Committe meeting on 9 Feb. Deep Creek, a category 1 waterway and endangered eco system, traverses the subject land and is within 100m of a designated marina park, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. KB residents have voiced concerns about this proposed development on a number of issues, height, traffic, environmental, as well as flooding, and a petition signed by 550+ members of the community has been lodged with council.

The State Govt (DERM) as a concurrence agency requires setbacks of 40metres as stipulated under the Planning Scheme. The developer wanted 10 metres. DERM has also advised that although the subject site is not within the mapped "Defined Flood Event" within the CRC Planning Scheme, the area downstream of the proposed development is known to flood. The application included a "Flood Investigation" prepared by Cardno Lawson Treloar in August 2010. A hydraulic analysis had been performed to determine peak flood levels for the site by the consultants BUT DERM have indicated that they believe the requirements for flooding have not been satisfactorily addressed. DERM considers that the application has not demonstrated that the development will not adversely affect other people within the floodplain; and that the development may detrimentally increase the flood capacity storage. We say that CRC has grounds for an overall refusal as the development is inconsistent with the State Planning Policy for flooding and proposes a risk to the safety of the community.

The proposal requires extensive filling of land within the 1-in-100year flood extent area (entirely or predominantly within the banks of the watercourse). DERM advises that the development will likely to be disturbing acid sulfate soils at a depth between 0 and 3m below the surface. For this reason DERM recommends that the application be refused under s.3.3.19(2) of the Integrated Planning Act 1997.

DERM advises that the current proposal within Deep Creek will likely have an adverse effect on the physical integrity of the watercourse (Deep Creek).

The developer no doubt will submit that it will carry out all manner of management to negate any risk of disturbance. DERM has said that despite best management practice, some degradation or harm to water quality or built infrastructure could reasonably be expected.

In light of the Brisbane floods, is CRC prepared to totally disregard the recommendations of the State Government, placing the community at risk, and allow this development? The developer expects it to do so......

Richard Hertz said...

Note that former Mayor Kevin Byrne, said to be employed in PNG, was lunching today at the usual haunt - Villa Romana. Along with Terry James, Ratbag McKenzie, and the rest of the Byrne "brain trust".

Plotting and scheming, no doubt.

Kris said...

Well - here's the test. There's a big cyclone on the way. Let's hope the new disaster coordination centre works - and let's see what impact developing in the flood plain has on events. Good Luck Cairns - and here's hoping my little house in Machan's weathers the storm!