Emotions flow as levee decision reached

RELIEF: Slack Dr residents were elated following the announcement that Central Highlands will not build a flood levee.
RELIEF: Slack Dr residents were elated following the announcement that Central Highlands will not build a flood levee. Rebekah Yelland

IT was a full house at the Central Highlands general council meeting today as the decision on flood levees was made.

Emotions flowed as locals, who have had their lives put on hold for more than six years, heard the final decision.

In a study that took four months longer than expected to complete, AECOM's Ben McMaster explained the draft Business Case Report-Emerald Flood Protection Scheme to those at the meeting.

However, in a unanimous vote, councillors followed the recommendation that 'levees are not a financially viable flood mitigation option for Emerald.'

A visibly emotional Mayor Kerry Hayes pronounced the levee debate "finally put to rest.”

"The answer to the question as to whether Emerald is going to have levees as flood protection is no, it's not,” he said.

"It has been very difficult for us and we have prayed for wisdom and major direction.”

Cr Hayes described the 2008 floods as changing his life and he didn't want the community to suffer.

Central Highlands council Chief Executive Officer Scott Mason said today's decision was the "biggest issue this council and the last council have had to wrestle with.”

"It has been the number one topic we have had to grapple with,” he said.

The decision was based around the report which states the approximate cost of the six-levee scheme would be $200 million, demonstrating an insufficient Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR).

The report explains the "cost of building, operating and maintaining levees exceeds the potential direct benefits, namely reduced flood damage, social and agricultural land impacts and residual value benefits to the community.”

"The indirect benefits of reduced insurance premiums and improved property values while marginal, are unproven,” it said.

Councillor Gail Godwin-Smith reiterated the recommendation stating, the chances of securing funding are "buckleys to none.”

"There wouldn't be anyone in this room who would touch it with a stick,” she said.

Cr Hayes said "the announcement today won't be the end; in fact it's just the beginning.”

"The levee option is finished, however a number of other flood mitigation projects, activities and advocacy will continue in the months ahead,” he said.

"In the last seven years the council has spent approximately $7.3 million on flood mitigation projects, such as the railway culverts, the New Street evacuation route and the Nogoa River excavation and this is a solid foundation for our three future focus areas: the bridge and rail raising, evacuation planning, and education.

"Discussions with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads regarding raising the Vince Lester Bridge to make a priority evacuation route along with removing the old timber bridge; and with Queensland Rail concerning the rail bridge are well advanced and will provide significant mitigation.

"Evacuation planning will include more state-of-the-art riverine and rainfall early warning systems and a comprehensive evacuation plan for Emerald.

"And, there'll be an ongoing concentrated effort to ensure people are well-informed about flood safety and are well-prepared in advance of any future event.

"As a council we will continue to lobby the Insurance Council of Australia on behalf of the community, however we do have substantive flood height data available to home owners that should satisfy the risk assessment criteria of insurance companies and may result in a reduction of some premiums.

"This decision not to proceed with levees has been based on a lot of information-much of it technical-and we understand there will be a mix of reactions and many questions.”

The Mayor will meet with residents tomorrow, starting with Slack Dr residents.

Read more on the decision in this week's CQ News.

Topics:  central highlands flood levee mayor kerry hayes

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