FORTUNATELY, Cr Andrew McEwen was wrong.
It didn’t cost the South Gippsland Shire Council upwards of $1.5 million, as he said it would in May 2018, to settle a long-running dispute with the Rich family at Walkerville over the use and quality of water in a retarding basin in the area.
It cost $249,000.
A considerable sum, you’ll agree, but also “an excellent outcome” for the ratepayers of the South Gippsland Shire, according to outgoing shire CEO Tim Tamlin.
He appeared for the shire at a compulsory VCAT conference in Melbourne last Tuesday, May 14, where agreement was reached between representatives of the Rich family company, Ansevata Nominees, including family patriarch Jacques Rich and his son Adam, and the South Gippsland Shire Council, to effectively tear up a problematic 1990 ‘Agreement for Taking Water’ prepared by the old Shire of Woorayl.
Former councillor Jeremy Rich, who resigned this month after being charged with a list of serious drug offences in April this year, did not attend the hearing.
The agreement, which saddled the shire with onerous testing, monitoring and maintenance requirements for 80 years, until 2070, to facilitate the supply of water to the Rich family farm, is no more.
“If there was one thing I wanted sorted out before I left, it was this,” Mr Tamlin said last Friday, a week before departing the shire after controversially being overlooked for the job of Acting CEO.
“It will save us $25,000 annually for the supply of water for road maintenance alone, plus the cost of water quality testing every two months.”
It will also save hours and hours of council time with the dispute dominating council meetings since 2015, not to mention legal fees estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr Tamlin said there was also the issue of the proposed $100,000 worth of work, insisted upon by Ansevata, as part of the agreement, to reinstate the capacity of the dam to 14mgL.
“We’ll still have to do some work but it will be substantially reduced to comply only with the requirements of Southern Rural Water,” he said.
Mr Tamlin said the parties were encouraged to discuss the issues by VCAT conference chair Andrew Kincaid where “goodwill on the part of the Ansevata directors” led to an out-clause being negotiated.
Under the agreement, Ansevata will forego all claims on the water, for a one-off payment of $249,000 and has also agreed to the creation of an easement through which a swale drain will be constructed to take away excess water from the dam.
Mr Tamlin said the exact location of a fence between the Rich farm and the retarding basin would be surveyed and if necessary, the fence relocated to the correct position.
“The agreement still had 50 years to run in terms of on-going and future costs, so this is an excellent outcome for the shire,” said Mr Tamlin.
Far from costing the shire $1.5 million, as Cr McEwen said that it would during the May 2018 council meeting, the shire will be saving $1.2 million in today’s values, on testing, maintenance and water-for-roads costs.
“The water will be available for community use, especially by the CFA and I feel very pleased to have this one wrapped up before I leave.
“It provides a massive clean slate for the council and the community,” he said.