Fire clean up nears completion

The site of the destroyed Apple Packhouse in Batlow. Resilience NSW says the clean-up is due to commence next week.

The State and Commonwealth-funded bushfire cleanup project is continuing to clear damaged and destroyed properties across NSW, with lead contractor Laing O’Rourke having now cleared most of the fire-impacted properties across the Snowy Valleys.

As of July 20, 294 properties across the Snowy Valleys have been cleared through the program. 300 properties in total had registered by this date, meaning that clean-up has not commenced or been completed on six properties.

A Resilience NSW spokesperson said that over 3,300 properties have been cleared across the state through the program.

The spokesperson also provided an update on the Batlow Petrol Station and former apple packhouse, which were both destroyed in the fires.

“Laing O’Rourke and the NSW Government’s Public Works Advisory are working with the owner of the Batlow Petrol Station to finalise a scope of works for the clean-up of the property,” the spokesperson said. “Work will begin after the scope is agreed upon.”

The spokesperson also said that the clean-up of the packhouse on Memorial Avenue is due to commence early next week.

After lengthy discussions between Georges Chehade (the owner of the packhouse), Laing O’Rourke and the NSW Government, an agreement has been reached for a partial cleanup of the site. The government will clean certain sections, while Mr Chehade – a robotics engineer currently living in Sydney – will secure the rest. Mr Chehade has been applying for grants and working with community members to ensure the property is made safe. 

On Laing O’Rourke’s bushfire clean-up website, the amount of properties registered for the clean-up program and cleared is broken down by Local Government Area.

Seven LGAs have had all registered properties cleared as of July 20, including Clarence Valley (169 properties cleared), Tenterfield (44) and Singleton (three). 

Quite a number of the LGAs are close to clearing all registered properties, including Queanbeyan-Palerang (seven properties left to clear), Armidale (three left) and the Greater Hume Shire (one left).

Other LGAs have a larger number of properties left to clear, including the Bega Valley with 103 properties left. Eurobodalla has 31 properties left to clear, the Mid Coast has 20, and Snowy Monaro has 19.

The cleanup project was first announced in January, when the NSW Government and Commonwealth said it would share the costs evenly for the clean-up of residential and commercial properties destroyed by the Black Summer bushfires in NSW.

The clean-up deadline was originally set for June 30, but was pushed back by one month, with a new deadline of July 31 set according to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

“My advice is that most debris will be cleared by the end of June and all is expected to be completed by July 31,” Minister Cormann told the Senate in June.

When the program was first announced, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that “we know that’s an ambitious target (June 30), but we’re confident that most people will feel some type of relief or some type of assistance in the cleanup process by that time.”

After the cleanup deadline was pushed back to July 31, NSW Labor slammed the bushfire recovery effort as a “failure”.

“[NSW Deputy Premier] John Barilaro is all hat and no cattle. He’s failed to deliver on his promises in bushfire-affected communities. Why did it take months for cleanup teams to hit the ground? Why are there still people living in tents at the showground?” asked Labor’s Deputy Leader Yasmin Catley in June.

Mr Barilaro responded to the claims made by NSW Labor, accusing the opposition of spreading false statements about the unprecedented bushfire cleanup program in an attempt to stir up anxiety in bushfire-affected communities.

“The NSW Government, in partnership with Laing O’Rourke, has always estimated that the majority of properties would be cleared by 30 June, and this has already been achieved,” Mr Barilaro said. 

Mr Barilaro, who is also the Minister Responsible for Disaster Recovery, maintains that the initial clearing target of 2,800 properties was met by the June 30 deadline.

“It is my priority that no one is left behind, that is why we launched Operation Outreach, to actively seek out any other property owners who need assistance,” Mr Barilaro said earlier this month.

Operation Outreach is a dedicated program made up of Resilience NSW, Service NSW, local councils, charities and locally embedded recovery services which aims to proactively seek out bushfire-impacted families and individuals to ensure they are utilising the raft of support that has been available. 

“[The outreach program] has resulted in an additional 900 eligible properties, which we expect to be cleared by the end of July,” Mr Barilaro added, also stating that the government’s support in the recovery effort “has no end date.”

This message is reiterated on Laing O’Rourke’s bushfire cleanup website, which reads: “…registrations are still open and the cleanup program will remain operational for as long as new registrations are received. There is no end-date to opt-in.”

Those wishing to have their property cleared can register online or by contacting Service NSW on 13 77 88.