'We are hurting beyond belief'
A TWEED business is calling for Tweed Shire Council's planning powers to be stripped and an investigator appointed, accusing it of placing his family's water extraction business at risk.
Tweed Shire Council last week issued Matthew Karlos with a legal notice, ordering his family business, Eniflat Pty Ltd, to provide reasons why they should not be issued with a stop work order at their Urliup Rd property or face further consequences, including demolition work.
Council accuses the business of operating outside of its approved licence and gave it until August 7 to show reason why they should be allowed to continue to operate what council claims to be "unapproved activities”.
These include operating five unapproved storage tanks on the property, allowing deliveries outside of approved times, allowing trucks greater than the approved six metres in length and more often than 12 trips per day.
If not complied with, council threatened to demolish the tanks and remove pipes and equipment for pumping water into the trucks.
But an angry Mr Karlos said his company was working well within the limits of its licence and accused the "Greens- majority” council of placing his business in jeopardy and pushing his family to breaking point.
"We are hurting beyond belief,” Mr Karlos said.
"That letter is extremely out of line and we just forwarded it to our legal team.
"You can't just stop a family business and kick them out on the street. We are operating a legitimate business that is lawful and operating within all of its legal boundaries and restrictions imposed upon it by the Office of Water.
"We are just a legitimate family business trying to run a business in a rural area. This whole thing is a witch hunt, it is just disgusting what is going on.”
Mr Karlos said an audit of his business by the Office of Water just a few weeks ago found it to be fully compliant with their licence, which allows for 60 megalitres of water to be extracted each year.
However, the council claimed the site has a development consent which permits only five megalitres of water to be transported off-site.
How the two volumes relate to each other is the subject of a Class 1 Appeal in the NSW Land and Environment Court due to be heard in September, with the Karlos family seeking permission to use larger 19m trucks instead of the allowed 6m trucks to facilitate greater extraction volumes.
Mr Karlos on Thursday lodged a formal complaint against council with the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, questioning the conduct of councillors including Mayor Katie Milne, Chris Cherry, Reece Byrnes and Ron Cooper, who tend to vote as a Greens-led block, over his case.
He called on other developers concerned about council's actions to do the same.
"We are doing this not just for us but on behalf of a lot of business owners in the Tweed suffering at the hands of the Greens,” Mr Karlos said.
"Anyone can put a DA in ... but if your DA and you personally don't fit in with these radical local groups that back the Greens, you basically get executed and that is what is happening to us.”
Tweed Shire Council general manager Troy Green welcomed Mr Karlos' decision to refer the matter to ICAC.
"Anyone who believes they have any evidence or concerns about corruption related to Tweed Shire Council has a duty to take those concerns to ICAC and is encouraged to do so,” Mr Green said.
"It is my understanding that Mr Karlos has advised staff this morning (Friday) that he has reported the matter to the ICAC.
"Generally speaking one would not normally advise other parties nor the party they are making the allegations against when they are reporting alleged corruption to the ICAC, nor place those accusations in the public arena, so as not to impede any investigations by the ICAC.”
Council's action this week comes after a sustained campaign by local residents, fed up with truck activity in their streets and citing concerns the water extracted may impact on their own ability to draw water from underground sources, a claim refuted by Mr Karlos.
Similar concerns have been raised at other water extraction sites across the shire.
But Mr Karlos, whose father Larry started the business some 15 years ago, said even the term "water mining” was derogatory.
"Our water is tapped into an aquifer beneath us, which is recharged by a very large area, it is massive,” he said.
"We have the figures in the hydro report, where it is so many hundreds and hundreds of megalitres each year it is replenished at and we are licensed to simply extract 60ML. You can liken it to simply taking a couple of buckets of water out of the Tweed River it is that sustainable.”
Tweed Water Alliance
THE Tweed Water Alliance has welcomed the action taken by Tweed Shire Council, saying it should have done so years ago.
TWA spokesman Jeremy Tager said Urliup Rd residents had for years been complaining about the Karlos operation, only for their complaints to be ignored.
"The order will force (the Karlos family) to stop operating unless and until they submit a new development application,” Mr Tager said.
"It highlights the completely lawless nature of this operation, which has been in chronic breach of consent conditions for 15 years and has been the subject of hundreds of complaints for unlawful activities. The operator has been running too many trucks, trucks that are larger than permitted and running trucks outside permitted hours. In addition, much of the infrastructure has never been approved, including several bores, commercial water tanks and the pumping station.”
Mr Tager said while the Karlos' claim they had a 60 ML allocation from the NSW Office of Water was true, the operation was only permitted to extract and transport 5 ML under the conditions of the council's consent.
"Because council operates under different legislation, it can allocate smaller quantities of water to be transported. That 5ML limit was confirmed by the NSW Land and Environment Court and agreed to by all parties, including Karlos' lawyers.”
"This enforcement order was made after investigations by the Tweed Water Alliance and subsequently by the Tweed Council. It is an order that is long overdue.”