Surveyor Craig Edmonston asks the council flood panel about the number of gauging stations installed in the Nogoa River catchment area post the 2008 flood.
Surveyor Craig Edmonston asks the council flood panel about the number of gauging stations installed in the Nogoa River catchment area post the 2008 flood. Tara Miko

Council vows to learn from session

ANGER has been vented and the Central Highlands Regional Council criticised at the Flood Information Session at McIndoe Park on Monday night.

In a four-hour meeting, more than 120 flood victims seized the chance to tell the CHRC what it did right… and wrong.

Emergency text message alerts were a success but the council failed in its apparent disregard of local information, according to attendees.

Residents were given a chance to voice their opinions following four presentations from CHRC councillors, and Local Disaster Management Group and SunWater representatives.

John Miller took the chance first, suggesting the council redirect water into Sandhurst Creek to relieve pressure on Emerald’s waterways.

Mr Miller also referred to the controversial Ensham Mine levee bank, and said water could be re-routed to flow through the southern side of the township.

“After the 2008 meeting at the Town Hall, I put forward the idea the water should be allowed to spill out of the Fairbairn Dam into Sandhurst Creek, lowering the flood level coming through Emerald,” he said.

“That’s the side where we need to put the water through the water shed and put it into the Sandhurst Creek, and it could be done for nothing if the coal is in the right place.”

But the apparent disregard of information from landholders in the northern catchment area – some whose families have lived on the land for generations – was the main complaint put to the council.

Leon Clothier “zeroed in” on LDMG hydrologists, who he said, “got it wrong”.

“The night before the floods peaked in Emerald, I was driving on our place (60km outside Emerald)...

“I was pulling up steel pickets trying to get levels and at 11.30 that night, I heard the CHRC predicted the spillway height to peak at 4.94 metres,” he said.

“The very next morning, I put my life on the line again and phoned the flood peak through and it was ignored.”

LDMG representative Bill Wilkinson said: “The only answer I can think of is council and the people supporting council in this event did a hell of a lot better this time than we did in 2008. Post-2008, we put a lot more alert stations in... in the lead-up to (December 26), we put the hydrologists on a teleconference, we did that deliberately, and we worked through the data.”

Ian Rankin received prior warning from a property in the northern catchment area and said he relayed the information to the CHRC who acted promptly and accurately.

“I got a call from the Mantuan Downs owners from Brisbane 48-hours beforehand, and I think that information was on the web within two hours,” he said.

But he still said local data could “have been followed much more seriously”.

The rail line was yet another contentious issue, and Derek Mayne suggested the CHRC remove the six round cement pipes from the rail bridge and replace it with just one drain.

“The smaller pipes restrict the flow of the water,” Mr Mayne said.

He said prior to the 2008 flood, the one major drain pipe was replaced because of damage, but the applause received after Mr Mayne’s statement indicated the majority of the people in the room agreed with the suggestion.

Craig Edmonston, the former mayor of the region before council amalgamations, said the current council had learned nothing from the region’s flood history.

“The 2010 mark is not the highest flood level for this area,” Mr Edmonston said.

He referred to flood events in 1916, 1917 and 1918 which he said went much higher than the 2010 level, and advised the CHRC it should have advised residents of the “worst possible scenario at the earliest opportunity”.

CHRC Mayor Peter Maguire said the system he used throughout the disaster was to advise residents of the highest predicted flood level as the information became available to the LDMG.

“Hydrology is not a perfect science but if someone tells me the spillway is going to go over between 5.8 metres and 6.4 metres, I take the highest number and that’s what I tell people,” he said.

The meeting ended with the council promising to “try and do better” in the future, and said it would investigate the suggestions and incorporate them into its emergency management strategy.

Among the resolutions were a commitment to investigate the impact the LN1 drain had on flood mitigation, as well as the major infrastructure on the south and west sides of Emerald. It also committed to reviewing town planning strategies and policies.

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