By Michael Giles
IT might look like a dam now but the facility which is at the centre of a dispute between the South Gippsland Shire Council and Ansevata Nominees, is actually a retarding basin.
It says so in the 27-year old contract which has been published for the first time in the agenda for this Wednesday’s council meeting.
Its principal purpose is supposed to be that it catches any run-off, either storm water or treated septic tank effluent, from the Promontory Views Estate at Walkerville.
It’s an important task.
The availability of any water that remains in the retarding basin for the use of an adjoining farm; for stock water, crops or irrigation purposes is secondary, surely, to the main purpose for which the dam was built in the first place.
In fact, you’d think it counter to the purpose of the retarding basin, i.e. to ‘retard’ run-off, that it be kept full of water. Far better if it was actually empty of water, waiting for the next run-off event!
In all likelihood, the retarding basin was put there to protect nearby farm land from any polluted water that might runoff from the housing estate.
Unfortunately, the wording of this old agreement, signed before shire amalgamations, is now in hot dispute between the council and Ansevata Nominees, a firm owned by the family of Cr Jeremy Rich.
What the council is endeavouring to do, by taking the unprecedented step of publishing the contract and tabling an officer’s report on a possible way forward, is try to come to an agreement with Ansevata about the maintenance of the retarding basin.
What the council should actually be doing is taking a ‘Bex and having a good lie down’.
It should calm down, de-escalate the issue if you like, and not make any rash decisions that will saddle the ratepayers with further cost and responsibility over the remaining 53 years of the contract.
What the council really needs to decide is the question of whether the retarding basin is doing its job properly, whether it is protecting nearby landowners and what arrangements need to be put in place for this to occur.
Certainly the retarding basin should be fit for its purpose. It should have the capacity to retard run-off from the Promontory Views Estate but this is a piecemeal approach to the problems that exist here.
How, for example, is the water released from the basin on a regular basis to leave it ready to accept runoff?
Does the water need further treatment before it is released and who is responsible for the cost of treatment?
Has the cost of dealing with problems created by the Promontory Views Estate gone beyond the requirement or the ability of other ratepayers to pay?
Should the shire, for example, be involving itself in the specialist and costly area of water resource management? Should it be contracting that role out to experts?
What the council needs to do is come up with a comprehensive response to the contract as it exists at the moment and seek to negotiate a solution on its terms with Ansevata Nominees to solve all of the problems involved.
Such a response might unfortunately but necessarily include a direct cost to the owners of property in the Promontory Views for an upgrade of their waste water treatment systems.
If, at the end of the day, a reasonable agreement can’t be reached, one that limits the exposure of the shire’s ratepayers going forward while also protecting Cr Rich’s farm and others in the area, then regrettably it might have to go to court for a decision that we’ll have to live with for the next 53 years.