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.

Brownhill Creek Myths

Over time there have been a number of Brownhill Creek Myths that have been perpetuated by people on all sides of the various arguments. Indeed the project has been plagued by this since I first became involved.

 

MythIt all began when the proponents of the no dam campaign kicked off their campaign with the first myth. We were being told that there would be a dirty great big concrete wall that would destroy the ambiance of the Brownhill Creek National Park.

 

I have responded to this in an earlier post this week, complete with a drawing showing what was actually proposed.

We then experienced another myth as those against hi-flow culverts in the back streets of Unley Park and Millswood, offered as an alternative, when we were being told that no-one would ever be able to drive to their home because the culvert would take up the full width of the street. of course these people could not visualise that the culvert would be enclosed under their street.

Next myth was when we started looking at a creek upgrade and we were being told that what we were proposing was concrete walls for the full length of the creek.

All of these were and are simply inaccurate.

At our last briefing we at Unley were reminded by our representatives on the steering committee of a number or other myths. Myth or truth….at the end of the day it is all about perspective and belief.

The biggest myth by the way is the promotion by the Steering committee that Option D was explored by them because this was the “preferred” option of the councils. As I have oft said this is not the case at all.

The motion moved at Unley by Cr Saies and Seconded by Cr Boisvert back in February 2014 in exploring a creek upgrade was that “the BHKC Steering Committee place priority on investigating a creek upgrade solution for the upper reaches of the Brownhill Keswick Creek (BHKC) stormwater project”.

Checking the City of Mitcham minutes they resolved the exact same motion and I believe without looking the other three councils would have voted  likewise.

Priority to investigating NOT preference for a no dam.

In the following May we also resolved our “support for the investigations taking place”, moved this time by Cr Boisvert and Seconded by Cr Sangster.

Make no mistake. Giving preference to a no dam solution was never a Council mandate.

That does not of course change the fact the the Project believes, after all that, that Option D is their preferred option which they have backed up with a lot of evidence.

Brownhill Creek Owners Apathy

Council has been briefed on the public consultation for Brownhill Creek. It (the consultation) has thrown up some interesting observations.

 

The consultation and the reporting back from our consultant Natalie Fuller was split into two. Natalie has differentiated between those who received an invitation to the consultation and those who did not receive an invitation but who chose of their own volition to participate.

The most notable was what appears to be an apathy on the part of the creek owners. Only half of them responded to the survey and that after the project and our consultant Natalie Fuller followed up on them to make sure they did not miss out.

Lets face it the creek owners are those most affected by Option D, the projects preferred option.

As I study the survey results provided by Natalie Fuller I found a umber of interesting  observations. Half this group did not provide comment on a preference  and the other half were split 50/50 on Option D or an Option B.

I must say I would have thought we would have had a greater response from this group of people. Is this evidence of a Brownhill Creek Owners Apathy

Could it be that they do not support those of their neighbours who have fought a fight against the yards being carved up in order to save a dam being built? Could it be that they have been frustrated by what they see as the non stop consultation over the last 12 months and are consulted out?

Could it be that those who are going to be inconvenienced no matter what option proceeds figure there is no point in participating? 29 properties will be impacted under Option B1 and 22 under Option B2. 66 will be impacted under Option D.

I don’t know that we will ever be able to ask these questions.

What we can say is in not contributing these people cannot reasonably complain once a decision is made and work finally gets under way……..in 10 years or so.

 

What would the Brownhill Creek Dam look like?

The next question I have in my mind as everyone debates the dam v the no dam everyone is what would the Brownhill Creek Dam look like?

 

As I attempt to answer that one the first thing I need to do is clarify that there never has been proposed a dam for this project as most would perceive a dam. A dam as most of us see it is a barrier that permanently holds water. It typically has a visually stark man made wall as the primary means used to hold the water. Do a google search and this is what you find in all the images that come up.

Is this what was proposed in Brownhill Creek (B1)? No it’s not.

From the moment I have been on Council we have been talking a retention dam. Unlike all those images on Google this is a dam that has no water in it until and unless there is a heavy rain. The theory is that we want to hold back any potential flooding by way of a barrier that allows water to flow out at a slower rate over a few days after the rain event.

20150831_153526When I first studied the details provided I saw what I instinctively knew the public (and I guess a number 0f elected members) did not see.

I saw a new hill being created and valleys either side of it in place of the original location of hills and valleys. A new landscape in lieu of the original landscape. Talking to people including at the time elected members

I can tell you they told me they saw a dirty great big concrete wall.

How many people who indicate now that they are against the dam know this? It is my opinion that most people and elected members see what you see in google when you search “dam”.

Two entirely different pictures. One you can understand there being opposition to. The other I argue would not be something that any one can be reasonably opposed to on the grounds of its physical presence.

If  am right and these people understand as I do then one must ask how then would they have voted.

 

Why do we no longer need a dam in Brownhill Creek?

Why do we no longer need a dam in Brownhill Creek when every solution prior to 2012 required one?

projects_4

Back in 2012 and before a dam was always seen as part of the answer. Every engineering solution included a dam, somewhere. It was politically unpopular in some quarters however having said that.

Now the Project says we do not need a dam to achieve the flooding protection desired. Many people against the dam are reminding us that all the engineering solutions do not require a dam.

Interestingly before the change of focus on a no dam solution ALL the engineering solutions included a dam. A complete turnaround.

We have moved from a continuous we must have a dam to an emphatic a dam is not necessary. What has caused this I ask?

Some time ago all 5 councils endorsed looking at no dam solutions. We did this in my opinion to ensure we have given due diligence by searching all possible options.

Within it seems days this had become in the public arena that the 5 councils had endorsed a “preferred no dam” policy. This soon became the ideology of the Project too, reinforcing the public expectation. And more recently of course the public consultation was based on the Project presenting (without Council approval I hasten to add) a preference for a no dam solution.

It is my opinion that the project have got caught up in the politics of the situation and became hell bent on providing the solution that they thought they were charged to find rather than find the right solution. Promoting one solution, particularly one that appears to be the politically expedient one, in a public consultation gives me cause to think this way.

So in an environment where experts are advising the intensity of rainfall in the hills face will be greater than when we needed a dam we now don’t need a dam.

I find it difficult therefore to believe that the solution does not include a dam as part of the solution.

Brownhill Creek what are we trying address

The first question in this series of blog posts I ask as I move toward a decision with Brownhill Creek is this …. Brownhill Creek what are we trying to address. I have doubt in my mind that we truly do know what we are trying to achieve.

 

We are on the surface designing a scheme to deal with a nominal 1 in 100 year flood with whatever iprojects_4mpact that may have. I believe that there are two factors have impacted heavily on this.

Firstly we are trying to protect properties along and adjacent the creek. The debate however has centred on dam v no dam.

The voices of those who live on or near the creek have subsequently been (pardon the pun) drowned out during the public debate.

The second and what I want to focus on here is the goalposts have shifted in the time I have been involved.

The Bureau of Meteorology have come up with revised statistics for predicting a 100 year flood with Adelaide’s rain fall getting less. We are being told to expect that our rainfall is going to get less annually, that there will be fewer events but that the rainfall intensity per event will be higher.

Curiously we have a design now that is expecting less severe floods than that we were contemplating when the 5 councils agreed to look at no dam solutions. There are now very few if any above floor flooding situations along the creek than what we were originally expecting.

If this is so and I struggle that it would be with more intense rain events then we would expect I believe that the cost of repairs from flooding would reduce from what we were advised back in 2012. And yet the cost of all the mitigation solutions currently proposed has increased from one that was very much similar to after the fact repairs back then has risen sharply.

I spite of asking I have yet to be advised by the project what they expect the cost of repairs would be now so that we can compare it against mitigation. We could do that in 2012 when it was a basis used for justifying mitigation against doing nothing but not now it would appear to be considered as irrelevant.

I doubt that this information will become available and it is critical in my mind to the solution. Without this information I believe we cannot truly make a responsible decision. Let’s face it, this information may tell us that economically we do not need to take any action based on current hydrology.

Brownhill Creek Decision looms

Yes. The long awaited Brownhill Creek decision looms… the decision…my decision.

 

In what is one of the most significant issues to be dealt with by the Unley Council we soon will be deciding which option is the most appropriate in providing appropriate flood mitigation in the Brownhill Creek catchment area?

And that decision, the decision of each of the 5 councils, and of course my decision is due in September.

projects_4In the last month each Council has received the Projects report on the public consultation. This Council will be briefed on the project on Monday night in readiness for the decision.

 

 

It may be that we consider a special meeting rather than our normal meeting to deal with this, such is its importance and the depth of the issue.

Of all the issues that have been bought before Council in my short time on Council this one has had the most exposure, the most debate and taken the longest to deal with. In the last few months I have watched the toing and froing of the various public special interest groups as they argue their case and dispute the bona-fides of the other groups.

There are a lot of people out there who think they know what the answer is and will judge us on the decision we make based on their perception of what is right and what is not. Whilst there is surely a temptation to go with the popular vote we make must, a decision that is the best solution for all with a special weighting towards those most affected, the property owners along and adjacent the creek at risk of flooding.

With this in mind I have already read the many responses from the public consultation and will now sit down to review all the information available (including from the briefing) and then some. I have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks and have a lot of unanswered questions that I need a response to.

Between now and whenever the meeting is called I intend to share with you through a series of blog posts (maybe a half dozen or so) my thoughts and understanding of the various issues and questions as I work myself toward a Brownhill Creek Decision.

Brownhill Creek Public Consultation complete

The six week Brownhill Creek Public Consultation is now complete.

 

projects_4The outcomes of the Brownhill Creek Public Consultation process will now be reported to the five catchment councils. Each council will then determine its position and a final recommendation on the Part B works will be made by the BHKC Stormwater Project to the 5 member councils ready to report finally to the State Government’s Stormwater Management Authority. It has been anticipated that this recommendation will be made by September 2015.

The public have had there turn and now it is up to the BHKC Stormwater Project to compile the results of the consultation ready to report. And then….it will be up to us, the elected members of the 5 member councils, to make a decision. And then the Stormwater Management Authority will be advised of our decision.

That will likely be just as interesting as the public debate that has ensued for some time now. And I don’t doubt that public participation will still be omnipresent.

I don’t know how many people communicated direct to the BHKC Stormwater Project but I do know I have been inundated with claim and counter claim myself. I am also aware of the debate that has transpired in the media as one group refutes and disputes claims made by those with different views.

Although broke and with no funding in their forward budgets the Government requires all 5 councils to agree on a final plan otherwise it (the State Government) will takeover the project. Three of the five councils are directly impacted by the results that will soon be known to us. The needs of each council are of course at variance to each other. The other two have little direct involvement. So getting what the Government is asking for will be a challenge in its own right.

As the report is put to the member councils and their elected members I will be looking for a number of issues I have identified, including that not in the public debate, before I cast my vote.

Obviously until this comes to its natural conclusion (if it can be deemed natural that is) ……… watch this space.