4 December 2020

ACT to get $10 million compensation for damage caused by the Orroral Valley fire

| Michael Weaver
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Orroral Valley fire

A water-bombing helicopter heads into a flank of the Orroral Valley fire earlier this year. Photos: Michael Weaver.

The Federal Government has agreed to compensate the ACT Government up to $10 million for damage caused by the Orroral Valley fire that destroyed significant sections of Namadgi and Tidbinbilla National Park in January and February this year.

The ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS) has been pursuing the Commonwealth’s insurers since the cost of the Orroral Valley fire was estimated earlier this year.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr originally put the cost of the damage at $25 million, but a senior JACS official told Region Media that the full restoration cost of physical assets damaged by the Orroral Valley fire will be $20 million over a three-year period.

According to the spokesperson, the ACT Government had so far spent $1.8 million on the most urgent aspects of the restoration process, which included repairing footbridges, cultural and heritage assets, fences and other infrastructure destroyed by the fire.

The $10 million figure agreed between Commonwealth and ACT Government insurers allows the funds to restore Namadgi and Tidbinbilla to begin flowing for further restoration works.

“We’ve commenced a claims process through our own insurers with the Commonwealth’s insurers. The $10 million is an estimation of repair costs that would be covered by insurance arrangements,” the JACS spokesperson said.

“We commenced that process as soon as we had estimates of the repair needs, but there are a lot of other elements of the recovery of the parks that have led to the $20 million figure.”

Fenceline on the boundary of the Namadgi National Park

The burnt landscape of the Namadgi National Park on Apollo Road after the Orroral Valley fire.

The ACT was ineligible for funding to restore its national parks under the first rounds of National Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA), leading to the Chief Minister to call for an overhaul of the disaster funding arrangements.

“The DRFA, which has been suitable after previous disasters, proved cumbersome and challenging to implement in these particular circumstances,” Mr Barr said in July.

The ACT Government’s claim process will continue as further repairs are made.

“We’re pursuing whatever opportunities are available through the Commonwealth to recover what is a very substantial cost, and our discussions with the Commonwealth have been very positive,” the JACS spokesperson.

“They are also mounting a national program of recovery as new sources of funding are made available. We acknowledge there is a priority with which you address these issues and a lot of our costs are environmental and not so much physical, but we do have very positive ongoing discussions for some of those costs.”

READ ALSO Crew safety meant chopper couldn’t radio in Namadgi fire location, Defence says

Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman said ACT Government officials have pursued other funding opportunities for environmental recovery purposes such as stabilising water catchments and recovery programs for flora and fauna.

“We are committed to rebuilding Namadgi National Park so it can emerge from the devastating 2019-20 bushfires as an even better destination for Canberrans and visitors to the region,” Mr Gentleman said.

“The ACT Government has already provided substantial funding for Namadgi and Tidbinbilla restoration works, which are well underway.”

The insurance claim comes as news that an Army helicopter took 45 minutes before crews reported the location of the Orroral Valley fire to emergency services.

The fire was started by a faulty landing light on the MRH-90 helicopter, which sustained damage from the nascent blaze and returned to Canberra Airport for an emergency landing. It eventually burnt 78 per cent of the Namadgi National Park and 22 per cent of Tidbinbilla.

Mr Gentleman said this week that there is no legal action pending regarding the cause of the bushfire.

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