Welcome to Our World.

Following on from my last blog post, there are two observations I believe warrant making in this platform. The first is welcome to our world and please stay with us.

I will deal with the latter in a later blog post.

With some of the observations that our ratepayers have made on this years draft budget I say welcome to our world. You are experiencing what we (the councillors) experience each year.

Elected members historically focus only on new initiatives in our budget deliberations. New initiatives in the operating projects amount this year to $ 1.2 m. This is very small compared to our general rates income of some $ 38 m.

Ongoing operating programs are reviewed regularly by elected members during what is known as regular service reviews. They are therefore not addressed at budget time . This includes a number of initiatives in our environment strategy.

Things like maintaining our parks and gardens. That includes the Village Green. So while we have been criticised by some for not allowing maintenance of the Village green in our budget we have. It just is not highlighted. Showing the maintenance of every one of our parks and gardens woudl make for a very complex budget and therefore not shown.

Then there are new initiatives such as the Brownhill Creek flood mitigation project, funded through capital works and loan funding. The biggest single environmental project I suggest we have ever done.

Talking roads, rates and rubbish which some have asked us to focus on. We have been asked to spend more in this area. After a service review we will actually be spending some $ 1.0 m pa more on reactive footpath repair. Requests to resurface Kenilworth Road. It is in the budget.

Yes. Welcome to our world.

We elected members focus on just 1/40th of the overall budget. You get to comment on that too.

This is not easy for sure but please stay with us. If you do you will become more intimate with the budget and it’s real depth.

Unley decides and protects the creek owners

Last Tuesday night Unley made a decision on Brownhill Creek. A decision in line with the other 4 councils but a decision that protects the creek owners.

 

Minutes-Special-Council-29-September-2015_ext=Whilst we were the last to make a decision and we took two dedicated meetings to do it we have continued with the decision made to provide leadership on the complexity that is Brownhill Creek. Way back when we backed exploring the culvert option to ease the pain of the property owners adjacent Brownhill Creek Conservation Park. We were the council promoting water harvesting back in 2012. We are the council now who is watching out for the interests of the creek owners.

In making the decision we have, and I understand that Minister Hunter is grateful for the decision we have made, we have ensured that the SMA will not take the project away from Local Government which means that the interests of our rate payers will not be lost. In making the decision we have the interests of those most affected by the project, the creek owners of Unley and or Mitcham will be looked after.

Had we not made the decision we made the SMA would have had the opportunity to take over the project on the basis that Local Government had demonstrated an inability to govern such a project. With respect to the SMA they are a State Government body and the State Government has a reputation of running rough shod over residents with such projects. This is evidenced by the recent grade separation of the Seaford and Belair train lines.

The decision can be found on the City of Unley website here. Click on “Special Council Minutes 29 September 2015.  Read item 3 of the motion moved by Cr Lapidge and seconded by me (it’s the last one) to better understand what we have done that sets us apart form the other councils.

 

 

Stalemate on Brownhill Creek at Unley

After a marathon session at the Unley Civic Centre Centre last night the news is we have a stalemate on Brownhill Creek. That’s at Unley that is.

 

Last nights Council meeting in front of a packed gallery too small to accommodate the interested public was reminiscent of the 1966 SANFL Grand Final Adelaide Oval. With the crowd spilling out into the bleeches that is. Certainly not in result however.

On that day the locals (Sturt) defeated Port 16.16 to 8.8, an emphatic defeat. Last night it was a stalemate, no result; a bit like that nasty feeling experienced when there is a draw in the great Aussie game of footy.

stalemate-300x153

 

My recent blog posts have highlighted where I sit in the equation, wanting more information to make a more qualified decision. I have not been happy with Option D and have proclaimed that loudly. I have also highlighted that I am equally not happy with Option B2.

As we sat to deliberate last night nothing had changed for me. There was  no further information to allow me to decide. So I went to the meeting (with apologies to everyone for my incessant coughing on the night as I recover from the Flu) expecting to vote no to either option.

Curiously this reflects the finally tuned balance in the Unley Council with both options being voted down 6 to 5.

What I did do on the night was follow the lead of Cr Anthony Lapidge who moved an amendment to the motion supporting Option D. Cr Lapidge had recognised that it does not matter what Unley Council says or does on this issue, Option D WILL be the option adopted going forward. He has correctly identified that if we don’t have a motion acceptable to the State Government and the SMA not only will Option D proceed but potentially we wont be part of the solution going forward. And our residents may get lost in the system.

His amendment addressed what I see as the major concerns of the landowners fearful of Option D and what it might mean to their property. I saw this as maybe the best opportunity Unley Council may have had to help these people get the best deal out of the inevitability that is Option D.

Appears it is now set up for a Grand Final replay, unless the SMA simply says to Unley…..had your chance…..on your bike.

 

Decisions are Pending on Brownhill Creek

Yes the decisions are pending on Brownhill Creek with West Torrens supporting Option D, Burnside Council delaying a decision on Brownhill Creek on Tuesday night, Unley next Monday night and the other two councils later this month. So over the next 3 weeks we will know where the Councils all stand.

 

For my part and as demonstrated in my series of blog posts on the subject I come into this months marathon of meetings not happy with with the information we have to make a qualified decision. Readers of this blog page would realise this.

 

Brownhill Creek Bridge

 

Whether we are talking option D or option B2 we don’t in my opinion have the information we need to make not only a qualified decision but an ergonomically and financially responsible. A decision that IS THE best solution not driven by ideology.

 

I have canvassed a number of issues in the last week or two on this platform. In this blog post I aim to bring them to a head and acknowledge a couple of other equally importation issues.

 

I have canvassed concerns over focusing on:

1    A lack of detailed design associated with Option D to allow for a better understanding of the impact of the work on creek owners properties and to provide a more detailed costing of this option

2    A lack of logic with both options pursuing a quick discharge of stormwater through the system rather than the community wide local government understanding that retention and allowing a slow feed over time.

3    Dispelling myths from all groups that have been promoting a self interest cause, including the Project.

4    Enlightening the uninformed on what a dam might look it.

5    Questioning why we cant incorporate a stormwater harvesting component to the solution.

 

So as decisions are pending on Brownhill Creek my head is in addressing the need for more detail for better clarity and costing and addressing the the sensible approach of stormwater harvesting. The motion on the table does not provide this and I am not convinced the B2 option does either.

 

If Option D falls over as I suspect it will on Monday night, and Jennies advertised B2 motion also struggles I am drafting a motion that allows more work to be done on both options to allow a more qualified decision.

 

 

Why not a Brownhill Creek stormwater harvesting opportunity.

As we close in on our decision on the way to go I ask Why not a Brownhill Creek stormwater harvesting opportunity?

 

Ridge ParkI refer to our resolution of August 2012 calling for “other methods not currently in use (to) diminish local flooding” to be explored. I am disappointed that no more stormwater harvesting opportunities have been identified than previously reported in the 2012 stormwater management plan. I say this particularly in relation to the potential offered by collecting stormwater for reuse in a flood control dam in Ellisons Gully, recognising that the economic benefits during drought of such an opportunity could make Option B2 more attractive.

Back in 2012 the City Unley called on the project to explore more stormwater harvesting opportunities. This was no idle request. We had taken the lead with the detention dam we recently completed up at Ridge Park in Myrtle Bank. This is a project that incorporated an aquifer recharge.

The Project was well aware of this project, having provided the design work for it. It is a project that achieve water harvesting outcomes on Glen Osmond Creek, noting the increase from 20 ML per annum to 60 ML per annum found for both flood control and water harvesting. This is contributing to the watering of Unley’s parks and gardens, saving our rate payers the cost of paying for water from other sources.

We have been told access into that aquifer is not possible in Ellisons Gully but my memory is we were told the same thing about Ridge Park. We pursued investigating this and found not only was it possible but we did it.

So Option D may yet have stormwater harvesting opportunities. The same can be said I suggest for Option B2.

So why not a Brownhill Creek stormwater harvesting opportunity? Why not explore if there is an ecologically and financially responsible solution.

 

 

Brownhill Creek Am I any closer to a decision

Sooner or later it comes down to this. Brownhill Creek Am I any closer to a decision?

 

Pragmatists-IdealistsAm I any closer?

I have tried to decipher for my own benefit what the factors re that go to making the correct decision. This has not been easy having said that.

 

 

An interesting challenge for someone who sees himself not as a politician but more of a pragmatist. I have to make a decision and I am trying hard to get the balanced view.

A politician I am I recognise however. And I recognise the politics of the situation I find myself in.

The “No Dam” case which gained momentum in 2102 put their political case well and captured the hearts of the state. Back then and isolated the City of Mitcham, alone amongst the 5 councils, fought hard to promote a no dam case.

Unley, too (amongst the councils) were the pragmatists, worked to ensure all possible options were explored.

As other options were explored including options that never in my mind had any credence including the high flow culverts an option emerged only as a result of revised hydrology being provided courtesy of the BOM.

Throughout this process however I have learnt how politics plays such a factor in public decision making. I have continuously been lobbied. By special interest groups, by my fellow councillors, by City of Mitcham Councillors. I have the same people plus City of West Torrens councillors, and of course the press query what my position is.

You know what. As we speak I still have one or two unanswered questions and/or concerns that remain unresolved. So whichever way you think I might be leaning (and I am leaning one way) I have yet to make my final decision. I expect that I will swing one way or the other as the deputations we are likely to receive on the night and the debate around the table occur.

For those who think they can still lobby me I want to remain a pragmatist and any argument provided by a self interest group I will treat as opinion only. Please don’t you may lose me.

 

 

Never mind Options B1, B2, D what about do nothing?

Never mind Option B1, B2, D is there another solution as yet not investigated.

 

Many readers of this series of blogs may well have thought my vote is likely to be for either Option B1 of option B2 and not option D. But I canvas now the question raised briefly in my post on the 30th August.

Let us start by asking should solutions not investigated by the Project be considered. Yes I say and why not.

When I look at the flooding potential of the creek and I look at what the Project now believe will be the 1 in 100 year flood I question whether the extreme expenditure identified can be truly justified. As I reported in a recent post the 2012 proposal included a cost comparison of between being proactive and being reactive.

dollar-sign-on-treadmillWe have costs suggested to us for a number of proactive options. Much debate has ensued over the difference in the costs proposed for either options B1 & 2 or Option D. Unlike previously curiously we have no costs proposed for the repairs that would be required given the current hydrology we are working on now in the event we do nothing.

 

Not knowing this cost means my next observations are guesses. Sorry about that but the theory needs to be examined whether we have costs available to back them up or to refute them.

Why should 5 councils commit their ratepayers to an expense they don’t need to commit to is a question that I would have thought should be part of any investigation into the feasibility of a project of this type. It was good enough 5 years ago when there was no great difference between being proactive and being reactive.

It should be good enough to do the same thing now.

This has not been forthcoming inspite of my requesting it.

Indeed on reading the hydrology that we have received I fully question whether or not we simply clean out the creek and be done with it. The do nothing option if you can call if that.

Having said that I wonder if we should actually be looking at higher values given the predictions that we will have less frequent but more intense rainfall.

 

What is the best Brownhill Creek solution for the environment?

Is Option D the best Brownhill Creek solution for the environment?

 

One of the promotions behind proponents of Option D is that it is a dam is ecologically irresponsible, that we would be destroying the environment in this area. This has been picked up and supported by many people from around the greater metropolitan area and indeed country areas.

A similar argument, raised by the creek owners, is that the same is the case for the Eco system that is the creek itself. Drowned out as it where by the intensity of those promoting the no dam case this argument has gained no traction with the public. It has with me however as a decision maker.

Their argument is that creek widening too will damage the environment. They argue that the creek widening proposal under option D will potentially decimate a much more important and a delicate Eco system, which stretches from the area of the dam all the way to the coast.

The City of Unley website I suggest backs up this view encouraging creek owners to do the opposite to what the project is promoting.

The creek owners argue that the loss of trees (including significant) is far more significant than the loss of trees in the proposed dam area. The significant number of trees earmarked for removal and I suggest this will grow when push comes to shove will remove instead of create habitat for local wildlife as noted on the website.

With respect to those who have focused on the area of the dam, the creek itself I believe and suggest as it meanders from the proposed dam site all the way down to the ocean is every bit as ecologically important.

As a builder I am concerned that the number of trees identified as being lost under option D is too ambitious. Until construction commences we cannot determine with any confidence in such a tight construction environment how many trees may be vulnerable to the construction process.

If we don’t recognise this potential and give it due credence then I fear we will have storey after storey after storey of “sorry, it was an accident, it could not be avoided”. Too late when that happens.

Detain it OR flush it.

Never mind such things as costs, trees and other arguments I believe we should be including consideration of deciding between detain it or flush when making the final decision on Brownhill Creek.

 

dripping tapThe original engineering before the politics of “damming” the Brownhill Creek National Park was always centred around detaining the 100 year flow so that it would be manageable. In the more recent days the focus has been to move the water trough the creek system as fast as we can and get it out to the sea.

Why the change?

running-tapThe more I think on this the more I get disturbed at the likelihood of someone falling into the upper reaches of the creek in a storm and being swept all the way down stream in an uncontrollable torrent. Uncontrollable because we have designed it that way. Worse still I would hate to think that someone is a child. I have images in my head of the recent Queensland floods and people being swept in the current downstream.

I have  a real issue with being responsible for allowing this to be possible.

I am also troubled as a builder (once again) with us not trying to detain the flow. Providing a retention/detention tank on site is a must  now in order to obtain development approval in many councils for any building work in excess of as little as 40 m2 of roof area. The reason for this is to delay the flow of stormwater/roof rainwater for a period of 2 or 3 days after a severe storm. The reason for this in turn is to avoid choking up the street stormwater system that can no longer cope with storms and the flooding that will inevitably eventuate.

And here as I read it we are creating a greater flow than probably all the houses that are being redeveloped together could create and saying that is a preferred option.

I will be looking for assurances on this.

 

 

Is Option D the most cost effective?

I have heard repeatedly from supporters of a no dam solution that is the solution the project believes is the most cost effective solution. 

 

dollar-sign-on-treadmillProponents of a dam however indicate the project has not properly accounted for litigation costs from property owners on the creek. I am far from a legal expert so there is not much I can offer there.

What has not been debated however and what I can comment on is, is the accuracy of construction costs proposed?

 

As someone with 40 years plus in the building industry I believe the Project is guessing at best, albeit by independent experts, when it comes to the physical building cost of the project. Whether costing the dam or the creek widening the experts can only make a best guess if they don’t have detailed design.

I ask anyone taking the trouble of reading this however how often do we hear of government projects going over budget. If you are honest, too many is the answer. Why? Because we present to the public a budget before the detail is available. And why do we do that? Because the cost of preparing detailed design is a costly exercise in its own right.

 

The intricacies of the creek widening concerns me and I am disinclined to accept the cost estimates at face value and that is no criticism of those who prepared the budget.

I am acutely aware of the lack of design work within the City of Unley having spoken with property owners along the creek. One very common storey I hear from these property owners is the Project is unable to tell them what is intended in their property. The report itself says on page 43 “the estimated properties requiring works are identified” meaning the extent of widening/walls is not determined.

The number of properties with creek works needed that is lacking detail design leaves me concerned that the budget is likely to blow out alarmingly.

Will the cost be contained under budget with any option? Hopefully yes but probably not.

To be able then to vote for option D is made hard for me without a better confidence on the costs. Indeed, as I write this, I think I may discuss this issue with our management.