SUPREME Court writs, massive legal fees, large pay-outs of ratepayers’ money, conflicts of interest, local resentment and a failed residential development potentially worth in excess of $50 million.
The South Gippsland Shire Council has been saddled with a dam mess, not of its own making, which has already cost ratepayers tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And there’s no end in sight.
It’s all to do with a contracted arrangement between the shire and a company known as Ansevata Nominees Pty Ltd and involves access to storm water and treated septic water from the Promontory Views Estate, collected in a retarding basin at Walkerville.
It has already cost ratepayers $65,000 earlier this year to settle a legal dispute with Ansevata over the use of the water by the shire for roadmaking in the area.
Signed by the late Cr Brian Cusack, who was Woorayl Shire President back on May 8, 1990, and the shire secretary of the day, Ron Stanley, the contract committed the shire to an onerous and, as it has turned out, expensive set of responsibilities lasting 80 years – if you can believe it!
The contract will be tabled for the first time in 27 years at the council meeting on Wednesday, September 27 when councillors will be asked vote on the latest costly exercise, that of restoring the capacity of the silted-up retarding basin to at least 13.5 megalitres, although no legal opinion has been offered by the shire to confirm this as a requirement of the contract.
The quality of the water in the dam, which can be used for stock water and irrigation purposes by the adjoining farm, may also be at issue.
The complicating factor for the present council is the fact that Ansevata Nominees is a firm owned by one of the nine present-day councillors, Cr Jeremy Rich and his family, who also own the adjoining farm.
Back in October 2015, Jeremy Rich and his family’s company was seeking to have 94 hectares of Farming Zone land rezoned Special Use Zone to facilitate a low density style residential subdivision of 88 allotments overlooking Wilson’s Promontory and adjoining the Promontory Views Estate.
Knocked back by the council at the time because it was outside the township boundary, the proposal from Ansevata Nominees offered a solution to the septic and waste water problems emanating from the Prom Views Estate.
It may also have offered the council a way out of the problematic dam contract signed on May 8, 1990.
But it would also have provided the Rich family with a significant property windfall.
The officer’s report to council on Wednesday week provides the following advice:
“The Walkerville retarding basin was built in 1988 with a maximum capacity of 15ML. Due to the build-up of silt the capacity has reduced to 13ML. It is implicit in the water taking agreement that the retarding basin maintain a capacity of 13.5ML.
“If Council does not undertake these works to rectify the capacity of the Walkerville retarding basin it will be in breach of the conditions implied in the 1990 Agreement for Taking of Water with Ansevata Nominees Pty Ltd.”
However, nowhere in the contract does it actually say the retarding basin must be maintained at 13.5ML.
References include:
“The Shire shall, after construction of ‘the dam’ (storm water retarding basin), properly maintain and repair the said fence and the dam and ensure that the same does not in any way become or cause a nuisance.”
Councillors will be asked to vote on a recommendation, which among other things, includes: That Council direct the officers to prepare a report for Council detailing the methodology, timing, cost and source of funding to restore the capacity of the Walkerville retarding basin and to receive the report at the October 25, 2017 Ordinary Meeting of Council.
Cr Rich has previously declared a direct pecuniary interest when these matters are discussed and will be required to vacate the chamber again this Wednesday when item 6.1. Walkerville Retarding Basin – Capacity Maintenance Options, is considered.