Yass Valley Shire Council’s pre-Christmas decision to press ahead with plans for a sewage treatment plant in Gundaroo, ignoring a survey result of residents and a recommendation from its own staff not to proceed, has stunned and angered people in the village north of Canberra.
It had been assumed that after 75 per cent of respondents had voiced their opposition to a sewerage system in the October survey, the proposal would be shelved.
Especially when council general manager David Rowe reportedly told a public meeting in the village that sewerage would not go ahead if the survey returned a no vote.
But at the final meeting of the year the council resolved to explore options for a sewerage system in Gundaroo after accepting advice from NSW Public Works Advisory that it was a viable solution to groundwater contamination and public health issues that have affected the village, where homes and businesses have on-site septic or aerated systems.
The council rejected the conclusion of the Director of Engineering Report: “Recognising the results of the survey and a strong anti-sewerage sentiment within a section of the community it is recommended not to proceed with a sewerage scheme for the existing village of Gundaroo at this time. However, any future sewerage system should be owned and operated by Council.”
Residents opposed to a sewage treatment plant say the estimated $8 million cost of the proposal, even with a 50 per cent subsidy from the NSW Government, is too much, with many concerned not just at connection fees but also the cost of decommissioning their own systems, which represent a considerable capital investment.
They also believe there is not enough water for a reticulated system and that there are significant sustainability issues.
Overshadowing all these issues is the prospect of bigger housing developments proposed to the north and south of the village that could eventually triple Gundaroo’s population, which some fear will spoil the quiet rural lifestyle which attracted them, and destroy their community.
At present, the developments are approved to provide 5,000 square metre sites but with sewerage would be able to reduce some sites to 2,000 square metres.
Friends of Gundaroo spokesman Ian Jones fears the sewage treatment plant is a tool to accelerate development around the village of 400 people, eventually tripling it in size to 1,200.
He believes the proposal is financially unsound and will result in the cash-strapped council rezoning more land for housing to cover shortfalls in the cost.
“It’s going to destroy a community that is a pleasant and attractive social grouping,” he said.
Mr Jones is sceptical about the council’s belief that there is enough grey water and recycled water available for a sewerage system in Gundaroo, saying no one could actually define the requirement in the NSW planning documents that there be a ”sustainable water supply” for smaller 2,000 square metre blocks.
He said many people already used grey water on their gardens.
The council said the NSW Public Works Advisory options study indicated that a sewerage system could be provided to residents, at the similar ongoing cost to those residents connected to the Murrumbateman and Yass sewerage systems.
It said the study had found that with potential grant funding available, and also development contributions from likely developments to the north and south of Gundaroo, a sewerage scheme would be affordable.
Council will now seek funding from the NSW Government under the recently announced Safe and Secure Water Program for half the estimated $8 million cost of sewering the existing village of Gundaroo.
It also will undertake further community consultation and investigations to determine a preferred sewerage scheme, including options for alleviating the impact of high connection costs.
Yass Valley Mayor Rowena Abbey insists the survey, to which 60 per cent of residents responded, is not binding and was not a simple yes/no vote but also an attempt to define all the issues.
“When you look at the responses it wasn’t just a straight out ‘no’, it was ‘no’ because it was too expensive, ‘no’ because they were concerned about things in the future,” she said.
She said the council was taking the responsible approach of keeping options open to explore all opportunities before any decision is made.
She acknowledged that a percentage of the community did not want sewerage or change in general but the council had to ensure it didn’t ”miss an opportunity if sewerage is a solution to the long-term economic benefit of the entire community and from a sustainability point of view”.
“It did the same thing at Murrumbateman . There was a lot of people at Murrumbateman who said they didn’t like it either and didn’t want it because they were concerned about the cost. It turns out it is possibly one of the best things we may do for the long-term future of that area,” Cr Abbey said.
She said there were people in the main street who would appreciate a sewerage system, particularly when it rained and sewage was running down the street.
The council’s preference is for any future sewerage scheme at Gundaroo to be owned and operated by it. Cr Abbey said the council would be talking to the developers who may install their own privately owned sewerage systems.
“There’ll be two sewerage systems out there or possibly three, all privately owned which will benefit those developments but it won’t benefit the rest of Gundaroo,” she said.
“If they’re going to do it anyway shouldn’t we look at the bigger picture and see if there is a longer-term benefit for the entire community down the track?”
Mr Jones said the Friends of Gundaroo would meet next week to fight the sewerage plans. “It is like a slow train wreck, and suddenly we’ve got a situation where we’ve got a council that’s trying to turn a community of 400 people into a community of 1,200 without providing any additional services,” he said.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you believe the Council is justified in going ahead with plans to establish a sewage treatment plant in Gundaroo? Share your thoughts by commenting below.