Dam will protect future
TWEED Mayor Kevin Skinner is looking to the future as he prosecutes the case for the controversial Byrrill Creek Dam proposal.
The future he sees has nothing to do with elections and little to do with the personal pressure he has been subjected to since the proposal won council backing with his casting vote.
It has a lot to do with the next major flood event that will inevitably hit the rain-prone Tweed Valley in the decades to come.
Councillor Skinner, a man with a long history in business in the shire he loves, is confident the dam could save lives and prevent significant property damage if the region experienced another major flood.
Cr Skinner is not using the flood tragedy of the last month to support his case – far from it.
He does, however, want people to understand that the sort of damage and destruction seen in Ipswich and Brisbane will not be avoided by luck alone.
The combination of a new dam at Byrrill Creek and the existing Clarrie Hall dam would mean the council had options when flooding was expected, enabling it to increase environmental flows when needed to make more capacity for flood mitigation.
Disasters aside, he also has one eye on the population forecasts for 2031 and firm evidence that the existing water supply – namely Clarrie Hall Dam – would not be sufficient to serve Tweed residents of the future.
“The present water supply will have reached its capacity by then,” he said.
“We have already made massive progress in reducing our water usage.
“Water is an extremely precious item and it must be protected.”
The assessment panel that compared options for Tweed’s future water supply ranked two options closely at the top of its list. First was the raising of the Clarrie Hall Dam wall and the second was the construction of a new dam at Byrrill Creek.
Byrrill Creek would provide a greater amount of secure water supplies for the region but at a capital cost of $67.4 million is more than $30 million more expensive than the Clarrie Hall option.
Cr Skinner argues the additional cost of Byrrill Creek is justified because of the additional water capacity, the potential for mitigating floods and what he believes are significant risks in choosing the Clarrie Hall option.
“(Byrrill Creek) can start today as a stand-alone project,” he said.
“It won’t interfere with any other project and there would be no interruption to the water supply as a result of the construction.
“I believe that in order to build the Clarrie Hall Dam you would first have to guarantee our water supply.
“The only way to be absolutely certain of that is to build a pipeline to south-east Queensland”.
Cr Skinner understands that raising the Clarrie Hall Dam wall is feasible but believes it is important not to relinquish control of the shire’s water supplies.
“We would have to put the ratepayers in the hands of SEQ Water,” he said.
“It’s a possibility we could be held to ransom by SEQ Water.
“It would cost us $14-15 million to build the pipeline and then there is the exorbitant cost we could have to pay for the water.”
The mayor is not deaf to the environmental storm over the Byrrill Creek proposal but thinks the Clarrie Hall option is not necessarily a counter-argument to those concerns.
“The old growth rainforests around Clarrie Hall Dam are magnificent and would harbour many protected species,” Cr Skinner said.
“Everything possible would be done (at Byrrill Creek) to protect those threatened species, just as everything would be done to protect any Aboriginal archaeological finds.
“There is no doubt that biodiversity and animal and plant life is important but there’s nothing more important than water.
“This is the driest continent in the world and we have to do everything we can to protect that for everyone.
“This isn’t a selfish thing. This is to cater for the future.”
Cr Skinner is acutely aware that, while 2031 might seem a long way distant to many people, the clock is ticking on ensuring water security for the Tweed Shire.
The Byrrill Creek Dam is likely to take eight years to construct and even the raising of the Clarrie Hall Dam wall would take until 2017.
The NSW State Government is cold on the Byrrill Creek proposal.
Cr Skinner has put significant efforts into lobbying candidates to get support for it on the policy agenda for March’s state election and senses the potential for a change of government could re-open the door for the proposal.
With both State and Federal Government support ultimately needed for the dam to go ahead, the mayor is under no illusions about how hard it will be to win the day.
Despite the challenges, he stands ready to lead the battle from the front.