Committee sidelined in STP upgrade

Members of the Woodburn-Evans Head Reclaimed Water Committee say Richmond Valley Councils general manager is trying to push through the upgrade of their sewerage treatment plant (STP) without proper community consultation.

The committee was established in 1998 to investigate and advise Council on options to improve sewage treatment. However, at Tuesdays Council meeting general manager Brian Wilkinson downgraded the role of the committee, a move which member Richard Gates says has effectively left them castrated.

Until April, Council had not convened a meeting of the committee for 14 months. Mr Gates has now called a public meeting for next Tuesday, May 23, to spread the word.

We want to tell people whats really going on, he said. For over 14 months Council has made decisions on the sewerage system without community input and what have we had? A pollution disaster at Salty Lagoon. Now they want to put the discharge into the river and I can tell you local fishing guys are very angry about that. Polluting a safe river will destroy Evans Heads sustainability the towns natural beauty is its greatest asset.

Mr Gates is also disappointed that the STP will not treat effluent to a potable standard so it can be recycled.

In a report to last Tuesdays Council meeting, Mr Wilkinson said it was time the water committees role was reviewed.

Previous input by the committee is being put into an implementation stage this is an operational matter outside the scope of the committee role, he said. It was clear that committee members did not (or in some cases did not want to) understand the role of the committee and/or the status of issues involving the Woodburn-Evans Head sewerage system.

Councillors unanimously supported Mr Wilkinsons recommendation that the committees role be limited to be a forum for the provision of information on a regular basis.

In effect, this means the committee will be told whats happening from time to time, but will not be required to investigate or give advice.

The move followed some acrimonious exchanges at the committees April meeting when Mr Gates and fellow community representatives Tony Gleeson and Ellen White complained they had not been provided with copies of reports prior to the meeting. They were told they would have to apply for the documents like any other member of the public, and would have to pay copying charges.

During the meeting Mr Gates and Mr Gleeson both voiced concerns that the processes of the committee were a farce.

Mr Wilkenson said while the committees role could be reviewed again in the future if necessary, Mr Wilkinson said Council had to progress with sewerage upgrade work to meet Department of Conservation licensing requirements.

The main focus of Council is to get on with the job, he said. There are strict deadlines to be met and things have to start happening rather than going round and round in circles.

Yesterday Mr Wilkinson announced that Reed Construction Australia had won the tender for the $11.6 million Stage 1 upgrade of the STP, to be completed by the end of next year.

This would produce effluent considered suitable for irrigation use during dry weather and ebb tide discharge to the river in wet weather.

He said the public was encouraged to comment on the ebb tide discharge plans and preferred options for the rehabilitation of Salty Lagoon. The documents are on exhibition at Councils office and at

The public meeting regarding the STP will be held next Tuesday at the Evans Head RSL Club from 6pm.

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