The Snowy Valleys mayor and deputy mayor called for unity on Tuesday as the council endorsed an official bushfire recovery plan.
Amid criticism in some quarters that the plan focused on projects around Tumut and not bushfire-impacted areas in the south of the council area, the mayor said the difficult recovery process could only succeed if there was unity.
“United we can succeed, divided we’re in trouble,” he said at an extraordinary meeting of the council on Tuesday.
“If we can find some kind of unity, then we can take advantage of the opportunities that will be available.
“If we confuse the issue, then we’re in trouble. That’s the thing I fear the most.”
Just what funding will be available through the various tiers of government, as well as private donations, is yet to be determined.
The only funding announced so far was $1 million from the federal government announced last month to local government areas like Snowy Valleys impacted by significant fires.
In a report presented to an extraordinary meeting of the council, CEO Matt Hyde said the council would attempt to maximize funding to ensure the best result for the community. He warned the recovery process will be lengthy.
Well over 100 homes and some 572 properties have been impacted by the 337,226-hectare Dunns Road Fire, which ignited at Ellerslie on December 28, and continues to burn.
The fires have impacted the region’s four key industries: softwood timber, horticulture, agriculture and tourism.
While federal and state governments will fund much of the recovery, there’s a focus on the process being driven locally, and the council has established its own Recovery Action Committee, with areas covering health and well-being, forestry industry, agriculture and livestock, business and tourism, infrastructure, waste and environment, donations and disaster relief, council business, communications and community engagement.
The council will work with the state-appointed recovery co-ordinator to Southern NSW, Dick Adams, and a Regional Fire Recovery Committee, encompassing councils such as Snowy Valleys, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Snowy Monaro, Queanbeyan, Wingecarribee and Shoalhaven, has also been put together, with state and federal agencies all part of the mix.
Individual communities have also set up their own recovery committees, independent of government bodies.
The council is hoping to tap into government funding for some of its ‘blue sky’ projects, and it’s some of those proposals that have drawn criticism from residents around Tumbarumba.
They argue many of the projects, which have been listed in the council’s advocacy plan since last year, are based around Tumut, leaving out southern parts of the shire.
Projects include the Brindabella Road, a multi-purpose stadium, a softwoods centre of excellence, a country universities centre and upgrades to the Tumut airport, while the mayor has also been pushing the state government to fast-track the already-funded $50m Tumut Hospital project.
Councillors pointed out on Tuesday the list was not definitive and would likely evolve – Cr Wright put forward the suggestion of a bypass at Tumbarumba, improvements to council infrastructure to better cope in an emergency, and Cr Ham suggested Khancoban needed a hall.
Deputy mayor, John Larter, said some of the criticism directed at the council, largely in relation to the project wish list, had not been constructive.
“People need to hold back on making stupid comments on what we’re trying to achieve as a community,” Cr Larter said.
“I know people are hurting and some are upset and not in a good space, but they should think carefully about what they say and do. There’s no need to take it out at each other.”
“Why would you want to deprive some 7000 people of a hospital”?
He pointed to a project like the upgrade of the Tumut airport as an example of a project that would benefit communities throughout the Snowy Valleys.
“That upgrade of the runways would allow the airport to not only become a hub from transport point of view, linking in with things like the Snowy 2.0 project, but it’s worth pointing out that airport served this entire community throughout the bushfire emergency, with the RFS based out of the airport to firebomb affected areas.
“That airport does not meet the standards required for emergency services – we need to upgrade that airport so firefighting aircraft can take off and land safely.”
Cr Julia Ham said some parts of the bushfire recovery plan had been poorly perceived in the community, particularly around the advocacy plan projects.
She said in discussions with the Premier during a visit to Tumbarumba last week, she’d been assured money would be spent in the areas impacted by the fire.
Cr Margaret Isselmann backed the Brindabella Road’s inclusion.
“If ever there was a timely opportunity to make sure the Brindabella Road was put on the agenda and achieved, now is the time,” Cr Isselmann said.
“That road has the opportunity to provide for the entire shire, generating tourism on a level not seen before.
“There’s been a huge impact on communities through the (impact on the) softwood industry and recovery programs won’t happen overnight.
“A road to Canberra with a population of 400,000 making day trips here will have such a big impact on communities here.
“It’s important we make that a priority.”