Council makes decision on Emu Swamp Dam

Southern Downs councillors unanimously decided to buy into the Emu Swamp Dam project.

By Jess Baker

Southern Downs Regional Council says Stanthorpe residents are now one step closer to water security, following a decision to buy into the long-awaited Emu Swamp Dam project at the December council meeting this week.

Assuming construction of the dam proceeds, approximately $3.51million of ratepayers’ money will be used to purchase 585 ML of water per year for town supply.

Mayor Vic Pennisi said the decision to become a shareholder in the dam was the biggest strategic move Southern Downs Regional Council had made in 16 years, but it would not be a long-term solution.

Council’s allocation of the Emu Swamp Dam is to be used as an “emergency supply” and has potential to become an “income source” if less than the allocated 585 ML is used in a year.

The names of the Granite Belt irrigators who have committed to contribute to construction costs and purchase water in the Emu Swamp Dam project remain unknown.

Before the vote for Council participation was taken, Cr Cynthia McDonald raised concerns about “transparency for the public” and asked that the names of the irrigators involved be released.

“We have now identified there are 24 entities involved and 21 owners who will potentially have their land resumed,” said Cr McDonald.

“Of those 24 entities, is it possible – before we proceed or as part of proceeding – that we actually do have the names of those individuals that are involved?”

“We don’t know who’s in those entities… we don’t know who we’re going into partnership with.

“It’s in the best interests of the public and the ratepayers to know – it’s their money that we’re putting into this as well.”

CEO David Burges said Granite Belt Water Limited (GBW) is unable to release the names of the parties involved “for confidentiality reasons”.

As is understood to be the case with irrigators buying into the scheme, Council will have to pay four percent ($140,400) of their buy-in upon execution and submission of an application.

A second instalment of five or six percent ($175,500 or $210,600) will be payable after the final investment decision is made to proceed with construction of the dam.

The balance of the payment is due on completion of the dam, which GBW expects will be in 2023.

Councillors also discussed the need for a budget amendment in their meeting this week as there is currently no 2020/21 budget for either capital or operational expenditure.

Cr Stephen Tancred said a vote in favour of Council’s participation in the dam “doesn’t necessarily mean the dam will be built” but a vote against would mean “Council won’t even be in the room”.

He argued in support of the motion before it was put to a vote, asking his fellow councillors to consider their responsibility to Stanthorpe residents.

“When you vote for this motion… do it for the 5000 residents who trust you not to disappoint them, but to actually provide for them,” said Cr Tancred.

Neither Cr Tancred nor Cr Pennisi were allowed to participate in the vote, as they had both declared potential conflicts of interest in the matter.

Cr Gow also declared a conflict of interest but voluntarily left the room for discussion.

All other councillors voted unanimously for Council to participate in the Emu Swamp Dam project.