Conflicted mayor steps back from flood levee involvement
ROCKHAMPTON Regional Council's difficult journey towards delivering the controversial South Rockhampton Flood Levee has hit another pothole after Mayor Margaret Strelow was forced to step away, citing conflict of interest concerns.
Speaking at Tuesday's council meeting, Cr Strelow blamed the Queensland Government's change of legislation for forcing her hand.
She read out a declaration explaining her decision to remove herself from council's decision making process on the levee project following the January 20 change to the Local Government Act.
Given that she owns the site of the now-closed Chat Room Cafe, which sits in the Rockhampton CBD in the area poised to benefit from the protection of the proposed levee, the mayor believed it was the safest option to recuse herself from any potential conflict of interest.
The cafe, which opened on the corner of Bolsover and Stanley sts in June 2014, catered for the entire public; from those financially struggling to people looking for a healthier lunch option.
The "socially sustainable enterprise", which was developed as a way of funding community needs where "profit was not its focus", was forced to close its doors in November 2015 due to slow business.
Cr Strelow said she was stepping away from the levee project after the bulk of the heavy lifting had been done and now it was simply a matter of securing the remaining funding.
The need for the South Rockhampton Flood Levee was first identified in the 1992 Rockhampton Flood Management Study following devastating and isolating flood events in 1918 (10.1m), 1954 (9.4m) and in 1991 (9.3m).
Major floods have also been experienced in 2011 (9.2m), 2013 (8.6m) and 2017 (8.75m).
Flood modelling of the levee was updated in 2011 and 2014 confirming the levee would have some impacts on the surrounding floodplain, but these impacts were limited.
The Fitzroy River Floodplain and Road Planning Study 2011 determined the cost to be between $35-40 million.
In 2014, Rockhampton Regional Council engaged AECOM Australia Pty Ltd to undertake planning and design of the project.
Estimates in 2015 indicated the South Rockhampton Flood Levee would cost $50-60 million.
It was revealed last July that the original $60 million construction cost had blown out by an estimated $49 million to $109 million.
In September, RRC confirmed it was unable to secure an additional $30 million in funding from the State and Federal Governments, and had to develop a plan to roll the project out in stages.
Council's chief executive Evan Pardon said in October RRC would call for tenders to build the levee either "all in one go, or in stages".
Stage one would involve a section of the levee being built from the Fitzroy Bridge to Quay Street crossover ramp (except the temporary levee section on Quay Street), flood gates across QR tracks, flood gates across Old Bruce Highway, private property access gate and all concrete works at the three pump stations but without electrical and mechanical works.
Stage two includes earthen embankment works and all remaining works to complete and commission the project.
The third stage would be to operate the levee for three years before commencing a phased hand over to RRC allowing council staff to learn how to operate the levee and pump stations.
The staged delivery of the project would leave 1500 properties, 3000 jobs and sections of the Bruce Highway vulnerable to flood damage until the levee was complete.
In late November, RRC confirmed it had secured planning approval from the Queensland Government.
Read Cr Strelow's full statement below:
There have always been rules
And we were also expected to know right from wrong.
Now because of a number of spectacular failures in the south east corner- in councils and in the State Government - the new norm is a regimen of traps.
It is no longer about trying to do the right thing - it is now worrying about whether you have political enemies who might use the legislation to get even.
Recent changes and proposed changes to the Local Government Act have led me to reconsider my involvement in Council decision making for the South Rockhampton Flood Levee.
While under previous legislation it was considered that my 2100 m² of land behind the levee was insignificant compared to the 1500 properties 3000 jobs, multiple businesses, two state schools and keeping the Bruce Highway open.
But the new legislation has made the situation less clear.
Draft legislation has removed the words that lets Councillors stay in the decision making process if a large number of other properties or individuals are also impacted.
(The SRFL will protect over 5 per cent of our urban area.)
Given that Council has now fundamentally completed the work that was required and that the task is really now about securing funding to bring the project to completion I have decided that as of 20 January - which was the commencement date for the new legislation - I will not be involved in the briefings or decision-making on the South Rockhampton flood levee.
As a reminder - the commercial property which I own behind the South Rockhampton flood levee was purchased while I was out of office. The Chatroom cafe was set up to provide meals for those who are unable to provide for themselves.