By ERWIN CHLANDA
Damien Ryan looks back over his nearly 10 years as the Mayor with pride: In a pre-election interview he enumerates a string of infrastructure items that could fit into an expanded meaning of a “rates, roads and rubbish” focus, and which he thinks will get him over the line for a third term.
But in the process he lays claim to an accomplishment that a fellow elected member may contest: “Transparency in council? I see different words written by different people.
“I was the person who brought the accounts back into open council. Every payment, every month” is now made available to the public, he says.
Cr Eli Melky may beg to differ. He started the process, pursued it and finished it.
Mayor Ryan ultimately agreed with the change but it was Cr Melky who had pushed for it tenaciously.
“I fought very hard to establish a finance risk and audit committee with an independent chair, which we do now have. It took a long time to bring that in. Very proud of that,” says Mayor Ryan.
But did the committee not overlook the Civic Centre loan issue? Cr Melky succeeded in saving the council $100,000+, by paying out a loan at 7% interest with savings earning 2% (in round figures).
“No, that’s totally incorrect. The committee had been established before that.”
Why did it not pick up on the financial opportunity?
The loan issue “was never put to them,” says Mayor Ryan.
“Everybody was quite happy about that. Eli had a different bent on that. There is not an issue there at all. I have to make sure council is financially sustainable. Not living with the fairies.”
Meanwhile the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics has told the Alice Springs News Online yesterday that it will call tenders for a topographical survey of the Todd River catchment area north of Alice Springs.
This is a concrete move at last in a saga that began in February last year with the appointment of the Flood Mitigation Advisory Committee, which is chaired by Mayor Ryan and also includes his challenger in Saturday’s council election, Jimmy Cocking.
The committee had first made the recommendation for a survey in its draft report made public in June last year. It is generally accepted that until effective flood mitigation is in place the town remains exposed to potentially catastrophic flood damage, a risk that is growing with climate change.
These matters aside, the council’s list of infrastructure achievements on Mayor Ryan’s watch is extensive: Improvements to Braitling childcare, Anzac Hill (additional military history memorials), Todd Mall (albeit its northern half is still chronically underperforming), Albrecht Oval and Flynn Drive carparks, road and footpath at Ilparpa, Spearwood Road bicycle path, the Garden Cemetery chapel, massive upgrades of sporting facilities in the last few years and the netball stadium.
Why do we need another oval?
Says Mayor Ryan: “Football and cricket have both expanded considerably, especially with the women’s league, and there are less and less time frames for people to train.”
The hours of use need to be controlled “so they don’t end up being destroyed like a park in Ballarat or Bendigo that struggles each year”.
The tip, approaching its capacity, keeps the council on its toes.
Mayor Ryan says kerbside recycling will need to be part of the answer: “We never had the infrastructure to handle it, especially the downstream services”, i.e. disposing of items to recyclers.
Much of what is recyclable, taken to the waste management facility,at present goes to the recycling centre, from where there needs to be a system “to get it out of there again” and so reduce waste in the landfill and extending its life.
There has been much progress in the last five and a half years: Disposal of metals, turning concrete into road base, mulching green waste, a paper baler, a tube terminator. Free e-waste is accepted once a month.
“Now we can go the next step, to kerbside recycling. I would hope the next council does,” he says.
Will the landfill stay where it is, extended into the Desert Park area to the west when reaching capacity?
Cr Steve Brown was a vocal opponent of that, preferring a new site south of town, possibly at or near the Brewer Estate industrial area, whilst leaving the transfer station and the recycling facility where they are now, for easy access by the public.
“We don’t have anywhere else at this stage,” says Mayor Ryan.
“The cost of moving it would be massive. There has to be, I think, management of the vacated site for 35 years. There would also be the cost of a new site.”
He says about the existing landfill: “The more work we do in there, with the smarts we’re putting into it, the better we’re managing that place. It is a resource centre. It’s not a dump.”
Mayor Ryan has been a deft hand in getting Federal grants or funds. The transfer station at the tip is one example. Another is money for a community development officer managing programs which “sometimes touch 8000 people in our community” through Lift To Life, a small gym at the pool for seniors, and so on.
Developing from mostly roads and rubbish, “today a huge part of our work is community,” says Mayor Ryan.
Community events have grown including Henley on Todd and the night markets which have been expanded from four to six a year.
Public art grew with new works at the pool, the lizard in the Eastside and the sculpture at the tip.
“The really big thing” is the arts and culture policy and programs set up with NT Government financial assistance and run by a committee.
In 2013 the solar city program was stopped by the Federal Government “but we did not sit on our hands and continue to invest in solar” on council buildings.
“While people are talking about it, we’re doing it. This is lowering the costs of electricity to the ratepayer.”
By how much? “I couldn’t give you a dollar figure on that. I’m talking in broad terms.”
Library air conditioning and civic centre lighting were overhauled to reduce power consumption.
“I find it interesting that some commentators say council is doing nothing about solar. That’s the old Alice Springs silos, so we have to keep selling that out there.”
Mayor Ryan says the council has employed an environmental officer, a health & community officer and a youth officer in the last five and a half years. How is he going to make a difference to the more than 100 kids committing mischief around town at night?
NEWS: We have protective custody for adults. Given the recent events, should we also have it for children now roaming the streets at night?
RYAN: You have to ask the government about that. We don’t have laws that allow us to do that.
NEWS: Would you recommend it to the government?
RYAN: This is a local government election and I am very keen to work with what local government can do.
In the next four years the council, will have a “huge job” ensuring the $20m “touted” by the NT Government for the CBD “hits the ground”: For example, shaded walkways from the railway station, connectivity with the rest of the town, a study of a “heat sink” to understand what parts of the CBD take the most energy from the sun, “how we change that”.
The current council has earmarked $2.5m for the CBD: “That’s come out of reserves.”
Hockey and tennis are looking for second venues, ideally in a new sports hub with parking and other services that could also service a new oval. “All sports are growing.”
Mayor Ryan’s preference would be Kilgariff but the location – if a decision is made to create new playing fields – will be up to the new council.
The government wants the council to take over street lighting – as occurred in Darwin – and this should happen here soon. At the moment the government PowerWater provides the lights and charges the council.
“We need to get more sensible LED lighting, more sustainable, cheaper to run. We can’t do that today. We don’t own the light poles. That’s a massive program. It has to happen over the next four years.
“We still don’t have a clear audit from PowerWater, how many are there, what condition are they in. How many have an asbestos pit? If we have a bad accident tonight and a pole is wiped off the ground, all of a sudden we’ve got an issue.”
The council has a target for Aboriginal employment that has never been met: “Aspirationally it’s always been there. We provide opportunities. It’s a matter of people applying for jobs.” A case of leading the horse to water …?
If the council, the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Central Australia, Congress and the Arid Lands Environment Centre acted as a united pressure group for the interests of the town, would the government be very brave to ignore it?
“As the Mayor of this town for the last nine and a half years I’ve slept, eaten and lived this job, as a town advocate. Other bodies change their leadership quite regularly. I don’t go to the government on council issues only. I go on all issues that affect the town.”
With the support of those other organisations?
“Well, they know where I am. That’s what the elected members of the council are all about. My door is open at all times.”
The government’s handling of the Flood Mitigation Committee report has been a pantomime of delays and confusion. Mayor Ryan and his opponent in Saturday’s election, Jimmy Cocking, both served on that committee of five.
This is the time line:
• The Giles Government appointed the committee in February 2016.
• It published a draft report in June 2016.
• The Gunner Government was elected in August 2016.
• Member for Braitling Dale Wakefield published the final report on June 21, 2017.
The difference between the recommendations in the draft and final reports are minor.
NEWS: This is a life or death issue – nine people are understood to have died in the flooding Todd River. Yet the new government has done nothing about the report for 10 months. Last week we quoted Mr Cocking as saying the Territory Government had changed and the flood issues had not really been brought to the attention of the new government. When did you raise that with the Gunner Government?
RYAN: I could not give you that date. It is in the term of this government. Our job was to provide that report. The minister put it out on display. That’s their report.
NEWS: The Flood Mitigation Committee, which you chaired, recommended the spending of $500,000 on a topographical survey of the Todd River’s catchment area.
RYAN: It might be 380, it might be 870. All the prices were indicative of what we could understand from experts.”
NEWS: Committee member Jimmy Cocking says NT Treasurer Nicole Manison has agreed to fund the survey.
RYAN: The Minister has said she has funded that in this year’s Budget. Our job was to provide that report. The minister put it out on display, that’s their report. You need to take that up with the Minister, Nicole Manison.
NEWS: Your report estimates half a million for “detailed topographic data” and a further half a million for “digital flood modelling / testing”. There are 1 in 100,000 topographic maps available online free of charge and 1 in 50,000 for less than $10.
RYAN: They can’t run a model off that. We worked with hydrologists and their biggest complaint is that there are no topographical data of the rivers that flow into our area and affect us. If they get that they can then run a model, which costs a lot of money to run, and say if you remove this piece, what will happen to that river flow. Or if you deepen this piece what will happen to the river. If you put retention basins there, what will happen. [Hydrologists] pick up all the information and then they run a flood model on a computer.
NEWS: The committee did not include a hydrologist?
RYAN: The previous [Giles Government] minister wanted some magic potion that would change the river flow. We said you should have employed a hydrologist. You asked us as community members.
NEWS: It appears nobody knows what the water level would be in Todd Mall in a one in 100 years flood.
RYAN: I don’t know unless they run that flooding model.
The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics told the Alice Springs News Online yesterday that current topographical data available from Geoscience Australia for the upper catchment area of the Todd River is not of a sufficient scale or quality to accurately model the impacts of potential structural mitigation measures.
“The department will be obtaining Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data, which utilises light from a pulsed laser on an aeroplane to measure variable distances to the earth’s surface. This data will generate an accurate three-dimensional data set of the earth’s surface.
“A tender for the LiDAR data capture of the upper catchment of the Todd River is anticipated to be released before the end of this month.
“The LiDAR data will have a vertical accuracy of +/-300mm and stitched into the existing digital flood model for Alice Springs to analyse the impact of structural mitigation options in the upper catchment of the Todd River.
“This investment in LIDAR data is critical to enable Government to make informed decisions regarding the funding of potential structural mitigation measures such as detention basins in the upper catchment area of the Todd River,” says the statement from the department.
PHOTOS: At top: Mayor Ryan who is pictured with Jenny Barr at Sunday’s market. The how-to-vote cards on the table are Mayor Ryan’s and those of councillor candidate Joshua “Burgs” Burgoyne, his son-in-law to be. Above: The Gap, looking north-east towards the town, in the 1988 floods. By Hans Boessem.
Ryan runs on infrastructure boost, financial responsibility
By ERWIN CHLANDA