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Cornwallis residents’ group to push for repairs a year after Council failed to fix flood damage

May 1, 2022


Frustrated Cornwallis and Richmond lowlands residents and businesses –chiefly turf and livestock farmers and equestrian operations – have formed a committee of locals to push for urgent action on repairs to the massively flood damaged area.


They aim to get their voice heard and listened to and want action happening now, alongside a firm plan with a timeline, so they can rebuild their lives and businesses, before the next flood comes along.


The move came after Jess Micallef, whose family owns a Cornwallis turf farm, organised and called a public meeting at the Richmond Club to hear from and question Liberal Mayor Patrick Conolly about developments.


They didn’t get a lot of good news at that event – with the Mayor saying it would be 12 weeks to put a temporary repair in composed of concrete slabs or blocks and massive sandbags, but he couldn’t say when that 12 weeks would begin – so still no timeline.


Flood waters coursing down the unrepaired Cornwallis culvert in the March floods this year


“The temporary fix is still many weeks away,” Mrs Micallef told the Post this week. “We’re still in the El Nina [weather pattern] and this temporary fix should have been done back in 2021.”


She pointed out that one reason for getting a committee of locals together was because the Council hadn’t listened to the knowledgeable locals – many of whom have lived there for generations – following the initial damage.


One local – who wished to remain nameless – told the Post at the meeting they had “been laughed at by a council engineer” – when they warned what would happen if there was another flood before repairs were made. Their warning came true in March.


“They did not consult with us at all,” says Mrs Micallef, “and they have a responsibility to liaise.”


Mrs Micaleff says one member of the new 6-member locals’ committee will sit on what is effectively a Council sub-committee. The locals’ group aims to keep pressure on for proper long-term repairs to be made alongside a restoration of the damaged land.


On top of the suggested temporary solution, there needs to be a permanent solution – at the very least a proper repair to the drainage system and road, plus restoration of the land.


Locals are especially frustrated because the initial damage occurred during the March 2021 floods and at that stage it was then mostly about Council getting on and replacing an admittedly large pipe and repairing the road. Neither of these tasks were completed despite a full year passing by before the latest floods swept through this March, once again wreaking utter havoc, and this time gouging out tonnes of productive land and sweeping it away.


This year’s flood was smaller than the 2021 flood but the damage was made worse at Cornwallis because repairs had not been carried out.


It didn’t help that last year the Council apparently ordered the wrong piping. Hawkesbury Small Business Party councillor Eddie Dogramaci claimed this last week the pipes “were the wrong size”, and Mrs Micallef told the Post the advice she received was they certainly needed ‘modifications’. Either way, they weren’t exactly what was needed for the repair.


The damage has caused growing anger amongst farmers who have seen their livelihoods either severely affected or bought to a complete halt – and in some cases it’s both.


Pictures by Paul Caleo taken last year of the damage – unrepaired by Council a year later – after the March 2021 floods


There were calls at the meeting for Council to turn a blind eye and let farmers get on and repair their own land and one said they were prepared to “cop the fines” because they needed the work done quickly, but Mayor Conolly confirmed they would still need to apply for DAs before any work could begin.


The repairs – though that seems too small a word for what has to be done there – are now being overseen by the State.


The meeting was successful in bringing locals together and Mrs Micaleff succeeded in getting some key players in the room too – the Mayor, a handful of councillors, plus folks from Resilience NSW, Turf NSW, and Rural Financial Services, as well as Macquarie MP Susan Templeman.


The RAAF had been invited too, because of issues around what appeared to be raw sewage flowing onto the land during the flood periods. They did not send anyone but did send an explanation which didn’t appear to answer all of the questions.


Notable invited absentees were Hawkesbury Liberal MP Robyn Preston who sent a staffer along to take notes, which didn’t go down well with many in the audience of around 80, and no Hawkesbury Council senior staff appeared. General Manager Elizabeth Richardson and Infrastructure Services Director Will Barton were no shows, despite being invited, and there was no-one from WaterNSW.


“We need them [council and other involved bodies] to liaise with us,” Ms Micallef says, “and it was disappointing Council staff would not attend [the meeting].”


The locals’ 6-member committee aims to push hard on all the issues down at Cornwallis and the Lowlands, not just the single issue of the one major urgent repair.


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