By ERWIN CHLANDA
Massive rains in The Centre over Christmas have again underscored the urgency of flood mitigation in Alice Springs but action remains at a snail’s pace.
The Flood Mitigation Advisory Committee, chaired by Mayor Damien Ryan, was set up on February 26, 2016.
In June 2016 the committee presented a report to the Giles government with the main recommendation being that “detailed topographic data be acquired for the upstream catchments of the Todd River to allow further investigation of potential mitigation options”.
The report then went to the new government in September.
According to committee member Jimmy Cocking, the committee has not met since June and – nearly a year after its formation – the topographic data acquisition has not even started.
If the 158 mm of rain Curtin Springs got on Boxing Day had fallen in the Todd catchment area, damage to the centre of Alice Springs would clearly have been serious and extensive. By comparison, in the Alice Springs 1988 flood 200 mm fell over two days.
“I have never run a model to understand that. It would have been very difficult for our town, yes,” says Mayor Ryan.
“Money is needed to be spent now to get the topographical data. We’ve never fully understood what happened in the upper catchments of the Todd River system. We need to have the detailed information.
“There will be a push this year for the Minister to instigate that collection of data … so that the community can put together a flood mitigation plan.”
Mayor Ryan did not respond to a question of why it was taking so long to collate the topographical information, except to say that it is very important.
“The work needs to be done. We are advised it costs a considerable amount of money,” he says.
Without uttering the word “dam” he says what “people suggest structurally [about the catchment system] you can’t do without the data”.
As reported extensively by the Alice Springs News Online (google our archive), the Alice Springs Flood Mitigation Dam EIS Volume 1 of October 1990 could not make it clearer: Only a dam at Junction Waterhole, upstream from the Telegraph Station, can save the town in a Todd River flood with a one-in-100-years probability, a Q100.
A dam, already under construction, was stopped for 20 years by Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Robert Tickner over sacred sites issues but that moratorium ended in 2012.
Mayor Ryan, in an interview with the Alice Springs News Online, says the Alice Springs Masterplan “to cover the future of our town” will also be among the main issues on his mind for 2017.
“The Chief Minister, the Australian Government and the Town Council will need to work on this together.
“We have got numerous planning schemes, numbers of 10 year plans, there have been CBD plans, work done by [urban planner] Steve Thorne and others,” he says.
“The masterplan would cover everything, it would bring together all of these different planning schemes …. to understand exactly where the town is to go into the future. We don’t have a masterplan. We never had that planning control.”
Mayor Ryan says he is looking forward to working with the NT Government as a council “to ensure we get rid of these small, 10 years plans, different ones that have come up. Let’s have a real masterplan for Central Australia. Let’s understand where the town is going to head to for 2050.”
Meanwhile the chairman of the NT Planning Commission, Gary Nairn, whose term has not been extended beyond its expiry on January 31 by the new government, says over its four years “we have completed a significant amount of strategic land use planning including land use plans” for the Alice Springs region and formulated “key policy changes including for Alice Springs CBD”.
Mr Nairn says this had been done with “input from the community and the commercial sector contributed” and with “many hours I personally stood at shopping centres and markets, speaking with individual residents face-to-face”.
Asked whether he has ambitions for the council to play a leading role in town planning, such as local government does in other states, and not just an advisory role, Mayor Ryan said: “I don’t have the ability to change the Act. Planning is done by the Territory Government.”
NEWS: Would you like the Government to transfer the planning responsibility to the council?
RYAN: First I am talking about a masterplan, not about changing of the Act. That’s something that is out of my hands.
Mayor Ryan says he will be very keen to work with Namatjira MLA Chansey Paech, a former elected member of the town council, to see the “national indigenous cultural centre / art gallery, which has been deferred to 2020/21, brought back forward”.
He said Mr Gunner, as Opposition Leader, has been reported as being committed to the project, and he said Mr Paech “also has a real keen interest” in it.
NEWS: Is there a case for the council to jointly apply pressure on the government together with other local representative groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Central Australia, Congress and Arid Lands Environment Centre?
RYAN: If you are talking about planning, yes, I firmly believe we need to get the government to go forward with this masterplan. If you talk about flood mitigation, the advisory committee spoke with all those groups. Everybody has their piece to play and I work with the people I need to.
Mayor Ryan says the simple things are also important: The Chapel at the cemetery, footpaths on the Todd River banks, Ilparpa Road.
NEWS: The majority of the current elected members are CLP sympathisers yet that party was nearly annihilated in the NT elections. Is the council out of step with the community?
RYAN: I have always run as an independent person. You need to ask the people who you are suggesting are in that way. I am only interested in local government doing things for people in our town. We don’t have party politics [in the the council], because that’s not what makes up local government in the Territory.
NEWS: Are you standing again in the council election which will now be in August 2017? And if so, on what platform?
RYAN: Yes. What I have always offered the community is leadership, accountability and local knowledge.
NEWS: Is there money in the council coffers, or borrowing capacity, to pay for projects stimulating the local economy and if so, which ones?
RYAN: We have responsibilities [for providing services] but don’t have the ability to forward estimate deficits like the other levels of government. The Act doesn’t allow us to do that.
NEWS: Is there a case for elected members to have direct contact with directors so minor issues such as mowing under the Anzac Oval grandstand (as was raised recently) do not need to be discussed in council meetings which, at least some members of the public would consider, should deal with bigger issues such as population trends, the economy and so on.
RYAN: Every elected member has the privilege to ask a director a question in council, and they also have access at any stage to the CEO. As a council we work through the CEO.
NEWS: Does the area of the landfill need to be enlarged? There appear to be two options, to expand further into the national park, or to move the tip, except for the transfer station, to another location such as at or near Brewer Estate?
RYAN: I have not seen that paper. We have invested a lot of time and energy into that waste management facility over the last six years and we’ll continue to.
NEWS: Does the area it covers need to be enlarged?
RYAN: Our biggest aim going forward is to recycle more product to continue to extend the life of it. We don’t have any more land than what we have.
NEWS: When Families Minister Dale Wakefield addressed the council just before Christmas she indicated that the youth patrol will continue. The council’s current contract ends in January. Will the council extend it?
RYAN: We will continue it with Congress if we continue to be paid for the program by the NT Government.
NEWS: The council did great work in Todd Mall, with markets, festivities, pop-up shops and so on. Now that the Supreme Court building is about to open, including its substantial lease opportunities, will that create more difficulties for mall landlords, and if so, can the council help?
RYAN: I would have thought mall shops would be happy to have more people working there. And commercial space is a decision for people who rent space. I don’t see how shops would be affected.
NEWS: Will the Residency next to the Supreme Court building have to pay council rates?
RYAN: As a government building the Residency does not incur rates. But any retail business operating out of the Residency can be rated, such as rentable office space or turning it into a gift store. This would be a matter for discussion between the council and the owner of the property.
PHOTOS from top: Mayor Damien Ryan presiding • the Todd flows, seen from Annie Myer Hill • supreme court building towers over Residency •
By ERWIN CHLANDA