More money for poo project

Lismore City Council will be deeper in the poo after the cost of the Southern Trunk Main Wastewater project has been revised from $7.4 million to $12 million.

At an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday night Council voted 7/2 (Crs Gianpiero Battista, Vanessa Ekins against; Crs Neil Marks and John Chant absent) to accept a $6 million interest-free loan from the NSW Government and to borrow the other $6 million from the Infrastructure Fund to build 6.7km of sewerage pipelines and four major sewage pump stations.

The purpose of the project is to provide relief for the existing Goonellabah sewerage system, which is operating at capacity, and to provide additional sewerage capacity to enable the release of more land for development.

Council’s executive director of sustainable development Garry Hemsworth said the reason for the revised figure was that the first estimate was done at a preliminary stage, when the project was conceptual.

“When we moved on to the next stage and had a clearer picture as to what’s involved, we came up with 12 million not six, but that includes a 30% contingency amount, which is left there for unknown factors,” Mr Hemsworth said. “We still haven’t done detailed designs, haven’t undertaken detailed surveys, so at this stage everything has been from contour maps.

“It’s a process, starting very conceptual and gradually working in more detail. Certainly all our overheads are considered now, whereas they hadn’t really been considered that closely before.”

The state government money comes with strings attached, including starting the project within 60 days of receiving the loan (but not later than June 30, 2010) and completing the project within 18 months, something Mr Hemsworth said would be difficult, but certainly possible.

“The STM will allow future development to be undertaken in the Goonellabah and Lismore areas, in accordance with our forward land release strategies, so the good part about this trunk main is that it won’t delay development. Under this new timetable we’ll have that capacity available prior to land being released, which is great,” Mr Hemsworth said. “We are fast-tracking this project because it has requirements that the money is spent quickly, which is good for Lismore in any case and we have engaged NSW Public Works to help us out.”

Cr Battista, who had been a passionate advocate for the STM when it was first discussed last year, said he felt Council had been backed into a corner to make a decision to borrow the extra money.

“I wasn’t very happy with how they put us in a situation where we had to decide there and then about spending an extra $5 million. I wanted more time to reflect and a workshop the week after next,” Cr Battista said. “I really wanted to consult with the community because of the extra charge to ratepayers. There are people out there that are going to be hurting and nobody seems to be thinking hard and fast about them.”

However deputy mayor Cr Isaac Smith said he saw the STM as essential and also that if it were not done, the Clunes wastewater project, which has been in the pipeline for more than 10 years, would be put back.

“While the cost is quite a lot, ultimately we’ll be spending $12 million to release around a billion dollars worth of development; around three or four thousand blocks over the next 20 or 30 years,” Cr Smith said. “Some councillors were concerned about the cost and that it has to be done in 18 months to work properly, but, in the end, the costs were even worse if we didn’t go ahead. There are risks moving forward but greater risks in not, so I was very supportive of a larger loan.”

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