Sealing the deal: Member for Eastern Victoria Danny O’Brien, South Gippsland Water Managing Director Philippe du Plessis, South Gippsland Shire Councillor Lorraine Brunt, Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, South East Water Managing Director Kevin Hutchings and South Gippsland Water Chair Joan Liley.
By Ash’lee Charlton
A DETERMINED councillor and a dedicated mother celebrated together last Friday following the announcement that work on the Poowong, Loch, Nyora Sewerage Scheme would start this month.
South Gippsland Shire Councillor Lorraine Brunt and mother Blyth Meechan described it as a wonderful day for residents of the three towns.
Cr Brunt has been at the forefront of the push to see the scheme go ahead since being elected to council in October 2012.
Last March Cr Brunt learned of the plight of Nyora’s Blyth Meechan and her son Lachlan who had become ill with bacterial encephalitis (swelling of the brain) in a case which was linked to the overflowing septic systems washing faeces and contaminated water through backyards and roads in town.
With encouragement from Cr Brunt, an apprehensive Blyth shared her story of her son’s illness- highlighting the public health concerns the towns without reticulated sewerage were facing.
“I was elected into council in October 2012, I was raw and over my head in Local Government jargon, asking myself ‘what are you doing here,’” Cr Brunt said.
“By December I suspected that the promised sewerage scheme had fallen over.”
Over the next month Cr Brunt describes herself as going ‘head-to-head’ with South Gippsland Water Managing Director Phillip du Plessis over the issue in the media.
“The break came when bloodhound [Sentinel-Times] reporter Danika Dent got on the scent and drove the story,” Cr Brunt said.
“Paper after paper, week in week out; the next big break came when Tom Kelly from WIN News rang.”
Cr Brunt said from there, support started to flow – from council and other community members who put in hours of research and helped keep the community informed through social networking sites.
“What was so important was the support the community gave as a combined cluster of towns,” she said.
The willingness of Ms Meechan to come forward and share her son’s story, helped bring a renewed fight for the scheme.
“Public health was the main driver after Blyth and her young son came out and said ‘we have had our lives affected and we don’t want anyone else to be impacted by these health issues’,” Cr Brunt said.
“We were promised a sewerage scheme and we were not going to stop fighting until it was delivered!”
Ms Meechan was thrilled by the announcement, saying she was eternally grateful for the scheme going ahead.
“I’m rapt, I am just so over the moon,” she said.
“I didn’t want to come forward, but when I read the story in the paper that Danika had done with Lorraine about the scheme not going ahead I rang Lorraine.
“I told her I was worried about coming forward because I was worried people would be nasty to my son.”
Ms Meechan said despite going against the better judgement of her family, she shared her story, first with the Sentinel-Times then she took it to council.
“I would do anything for my child, or any of the children in the town, so I am really just elated with this,” she said.
“I had to have faith in coming forward that we would eventually get the scheme, so I did, and the staff at South Gippsland Water was wonderful in always reassuring me.”
Whilst her son Lachlan is still suffering secondary health issues as a result of his illness, Blyth says the brave teenager is thrilled that the scheme is going ahead.
“I pray every night that my son is still going to be with us in the morning when we wake up, because it is something that is not going to go away,” she said.
“But he was so happy with the news.”
Wouldn’t take a band-aid solution
THEY had been promised a sewerage scheme and South Gippsland Shire Councillor Lorraine Brunt was determined to see that the communities of Loch, Poowong and Nyora were delivered that promise.
So when the idea of amelioration works were tabled, Cr Brunt was prepared to stand-up and fight against it- and that’s what she did.
“There were people that wanted and were willing to accept the idea of amelioration works,” Cr Brunt said.
“I stood toe-to-toe with several people on this issue at the time.
“As far as I was concerned amelioration works were unacceptable, it was just going to be putting a band-aid on the problem.
“The battle I was fighting was not that they had take the scheme off us, but that this was a health issues, and a band-aid was not the answer.”
Biting the bullet to take on sewerage scheme
SOUTH Gippsland Water Managing Director Philippe du Plessis said it was only a year ago, the three communities of Poowong, Loch and Nyora were “fairly unsure” if the scheme was going to proceed.
But last Friday, Mr du Plessis was thrilled to officially announce the commencement of the sewerage scheme.
“The whole scheme has been a fairly protracted one, which was first mooted I think back in the early 80s,” he said.
Despite the ups and downs in bringing the scheme to fruition, community lobbying and a network of partnerships has ensured it will become a reality.
The partnerships include the involvement of South East Water, which will see wastewater from the three towns treated at the Lang Lang Water Recycling Plant.
South Gippsland Water Chairperson Joan Liley said several parties working together has ensured the best outcome for the communities.
“The partnership with South East Water came at a time where they were looking to extend their Lang Lang Koo Wee Rup Scheme,” Ms Liley said.
“They have installed 16,000 of these systems, which is a non-invasive way of delivering sewerage- you won’t even know they are there.
“Dealing with out dated septic tanks is a very difficult state-wide problem. The community members of the three towns have been fantastic and given us a bit of a bullet when we needed it.”