By ERWIN CHLANDA
Is Kilgariff above or below the Q100 flood level? The Town Council says it is below. The NT Government says it is above.
Kigariff is to be Alice Springs’ newest suburb, south of the Gap and east of the Stuart Highway, before you get to the turn-off to Adelaide.
Q100 means the level of flooding likely to occur once in 100 years. Because the existing flood map shows that Kilgariff will be under water in a Q100, the Town Council has wiped its hands of it, refusing to take on responsibility for roads and drains in the planned subdivision, as it normally does.
Today the Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment told the Alice Springs News Online: “The site is above the Q100 flood level and comprehensive, independent engineering studies and design have been undertaken to ensure immunity to flooding as the remainder of Kilgariff is developed into the future.”
Council’s Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton, disagrees. He says in his advice to the council he will continue to be guided by the Australian standards which require that housing land is above the Q100.
He says he has been told by the government of its new opinion on the subject but has not been shown the report.
Mr Buxton says there is another major obstacle in the project: storm water is not proposed to be taken off the site but allowed to seep into the ground. However, it has become clear that the soil is not sufficiently permeable for this to occur at an adequate rate.
This casts doubt on the usefulness of the $10m pipeline, 10 years under construction by Power Water Corporation, from the sewage ponds to the Kilgariff site. It is meant to be taking partially treated sewage to open ponds where it will seep underground, being filtered in the process. It is then meant to be pumped back to the surface for use in horticultural ventures (not yet in place).
The department says the request for proposals to subdivide Kilgariff “allows for a $3.5m grant to contribute towards the construction of the spine road and the drain” and it is “assessing the proposals received and looks forward to an announcement on the Kilgariff development in the near future.
“Developers have stipulated in proposals their timeframes for the release of the lots and these timeframes will be released following the announcement of the successful proponent.”
Adam Giles, before he became Chief Minister, in March this year said he wanted “100 residential blocks in Kilgariff ready for sale ‘off the plan’ by July” and in May said it was expected that a “preferred proponent will be appointed by the end of August”.
Image: This Google Earth shot shows the Kilgariff land and St Mary’s Creek running through it. The road on the left is the South Stuart Highway. The road at the bottom is Colonel Rose Drive. The intersection is the south-western corner of the proposed suburb. BELOW: The flood map.
The questions raised
Council CEO Rex Mooney concedes the deal with the government about Kilgariff is unusual; in fact it seems full of contradictions: Normally the council takes over responsibilities for roads and drains after the completion of a subdivision, having made sure that all work is up to its standards.
If the council has made an error, the council is liable for any resulting losses incurred by land buyers: this would include allowing a subdivision on land where a known flood risk exists.
In the case of Kilgariff the NT Government would now be liable. The Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment has removed “any reference to requiring Council approvals from our Expression of Interest documentation,” states a letter from the department dated June 13.
“We will seek agreement in year 5 from completion … to take over the site in year 5. This will provide sufficient time to remedy any defects that may arise,” says the letter. Mr Mooney says the council has the discretion of not entering into such an agreement.
The department engaged three engineers, including one to assist the council: it is “unfortunate” that the engineer advising the council disagreed with the other two on some issues, says the letter.
Is there an ongoing disagreement on Q100? “The council accepted the advice of the department and independent engineers,” says Mr Mooney.
Given that, why is the council not proceeding in the normal fashion, taking over the subdivision upon completion? “There are challenges, but it is a cooperative decision [for the government to fully take over the project] and council believed this to be the most straightforward way. There is an expectation for the council’s guidelines to be taken into account.”
What if, after the five years, the Q100 question remains unresolved, simply because there hasn’t been a major flood which would show conclusively whether or not Kilgariff goes under? A Q100 is bound to happen some time and council could cop the consequences.
However, Mr Mooney says: “The council has confidence in the advice obtained by the government.”
If that is so, why is the council not accepting that advice right now, dropping the assumption that a Q100 will flood Kilgariff and redrawing the town’s flood map accordingly?
There are more questions. If this model is a good one, why not apply it to all subdivisions? After all, this would remove one bureaucracy from the land development process.
On the other hand, is the involvement of local government, the government closest to the people, not a desirable thing, giving locals a say in how their town grows, rather than leaving it to decisions made north of the Berrimah Line?
By ERWIN CHLANDA