Emerald Flood Protection Scheme proposed levees.
Emerald Flood Protection Scheme proposed levees. AECOM

No levees in Emerald

A VISIBLY emotional Mayor Kerry Hayes pronounced the levee debate "finally put to rest” at a Central Highlands general council meeting this week.

Emotions flowed from locals and councillors alike as the decision forego the Emerald Flood Protection Scheme was handed down.

If the scheme was to be given the green light would mean homes not impacted by floods would be compulsorily acquired by council to make way for flood mitigating levees.

During the meeting, AECOM's Ben McMaster explained the draft Business Case Report-Emerald Flood Protection Scheme, which was based on the Defined Flood Event (DFE), adopted in Councils 2015 Planning Scheme. A DFE is a hypothetical flood event, is used by local government to establish the defined flood level for building and development level.

The DFE flood depth used to establish the report, is, at its highest point, 0.9 metres deeper than the 2010/2011 flood depth at the southern end of Slack Drive. However, the council stated that even though the DFE and larger flood events are rare, the consequences to the community are "catastrophic and the risk to public safety extreme, and therefore preparedness through evacuation planning by council is a priority.”

The report explained the proposed scheme would consist of six levees.

It stated the scheme would have numerous benefits, including the protection of over 2,000 residential buildings, and over 600 commercial or industrial buildings.

The scheme, the report states, would also reduce the tangible flood damage cost by approximately $5million per annum.

Other benefits included the increased evacuation time to the west of Emerald, improved property valuations and a reduction of approximately $3million per annum in insurance premiums.

However, it was the scheme's Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) that was the major factor leading to the final decision.

The report states the scheme would cost approximately $200million, the funding of which would be likely to be divided between local, state and federal government funding.

"Assessment of several funding scenarios indicates that additional financing cost of CHRC's contribution could cost between $2.1million and $4.5million per annum in repayments for a funding contribution ranging from $29.8million to $62.6million,” it said.

The estimates were based on the circumstance that the CHRC's contribution would be 100% over a 20-year loan term.

The report also highlighted the potential increase to ratepayers per year.

If the cost was shared across the Emerald township alone ratepayers could see an increase of $548-$892 per annum.

In a unanimous vote, councillors followed the recommendation from the council's decision action report, that 'levees are not a financially viable flood mitigation option for Emerald.'

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.

After the decision was made, 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.

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