Council backs fire buffer zones

The deputy mayor John Larter has once more called into question a Rural Fire Service proposal to move its local headquarters into an area near dense scrub-land, saying the bureaucratic and managerial bodies behind the RFS have got their ‘grog-goggles’ on.

During discussions around a call by councillor Geoff Pritchard to implement a fire buffer around Tumut due to the severity of the current bushfire season, Clr Larter said the area in which the RFS and Forestry are planning to put their offices would be in the exact area which had been identified as at high risk for bush fire.

“It’s absolutely crazy. These people from the RFS and Forestry want to move to this spot, which Cr Pritchard rightly says is a hot zone. Its identified as a hot zone,” Clr Larter said. “They’ve been advised that this is one of the stupidest planning decisions that could ever be brought upon this area- put a multi-million-dollar facility in a place where expert firefighters like Graeme Sturt are saying it’s complete madness.

“They think this is a go-to project and that this is fantastic despite what the local emergency committee who unanimously have said that this was a dopey decision and didn’t want to support it.”

He said that he would be providing a brief on the matter to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliot and would be speaking with him personally.

Meanwhile, a variety of ideas and concerns were expressed with Cr Pritchard’s notice of motion calling for a fire buffer on the western and southern edges of the Tumut township.

Cr Julia Ham said it would be ideal to not only create a buffer for Tumut but areas within other small towns in the Snowy Valleys.

“I wonder if it’s something that we should be proactively doing in every little town,” she said.

Councillor Cate Cross agreed and suggested council come up with a management plan for all Snowy Valleys communities.

“I think one thing I would like to see happen is facilitation with those agencies that are responsible for fire mitigation and looking at creating a hazard-reduction plan for the whole of the Snowy Valleys Council area in partnership with rural fire services and other land agencies rather than just deal with Tumut,” she said.

Acting Director of Assets and Infrastructure Heinz Kausche and SVC’s CEO Matthew Hyde expressed concern that the area south of the Golf Club in question was owned by a combination of crown and private land stakeholders and that it might be beyond Council’s ability to execute any action.

“Some of the land that is described in the recommendation is crown and forestry land so it would be great to build something into this resolution that enabled us to approach the owners and ask them to go in partnership with us to minimise those risks,” Mr Kausche said.

But Cr Pritchard pointed out that the crown-land owners were more apt to leave it in the hands of farmers and expressed the need to act quickly.

“I don’t think we should get involved in a ping-pong match about it, we just have to get on with doing it,” he said.

Council’s CEO Matthew Hyde said that in some cases, council was considered trustees to some crown-lands and in those cases there were certain actions that it could take, but otherwise it was limited in what it could and couldn’t do.

“When we are not trustees we have no rights and there’s a lot of implications about the native heritage and entitlements significance to take into account,” Mr Hyde said.

“We would not be able to conduct those works unless we were trustees and we had permission to do that. We will do our best but that’s our limitation around that.”

The mayor James Hayes disagreed about where the greatest threat would come from, saying that, historically, embers spiralling from Snubba Crescent look-out had been a bigger concern.

“I think from my personal experience, Tumut’s greatest risk on a catastrophic fire day would be ember attack and that ember attack will come from the top of the Snubba,” he said.

But he also agreed that the motion was one of importance to the community.

“This is probably a bit of a band-aid and it will probably make people feel a bit happier and it will stop those smaller grass fires,” he said.

Cr Pritchard acknowledged the rural fire service and their work in fighting fires up north and in the local area, and said that he, in no way, wanted the council to interfere with their activities.

“The reason I put this motion up is because the bushfires around here come late in the season, around January/February, so it’s inevitable that we will be in the same situation as areas up north. If so, it will be all hands on deck and all agencies will have to be involved,” he said.

“The winds for the fire season come strongly from the west though we’re pretty secure from the east with the flat land and the river, and in the west we’re protected by the Tumut golf course which is a large area secured by the recycling water.

“But south of that, going past the old bush common and old rubbish tip, there is scrubby land that isn’t very well maintained and there’s residents who have made recommendations to the Tumut Community Association that something should be done about looking at the area,” he said.

Cr Pritchard also said that the communications blackout a fortnight ago posed a risk to the community during such danger periods, and pointed to the problem surrounding the public being left in the dark on the matter and not knowing what was going on.

 “We had no way of knowing what was happening and no way of letting the community know in order to protect them,” he said.

“This is a real issue with people needing to contact emergency services and it’s an issue which also needs to be addressed and looked at.”