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First Pictures Reveal Cornwallis Disaster

Apr 8, 2024

For the sixth time in three-and-a-half years Richmond Lowlands turf and livestock farmers are bearing the brunt of the latest flood, with tens of millions of dollars in destroyed turf and grazing paddocks.

But this was not caused by a natural flood. It was the HCC’s collapsed drain three years ago – and failure to act quickly to repair it – that has caused a massive riverside canyon at Cornwallis Road that has significantly exacerbated flooding on the Lowlands. This means that turf farms are now inundated by huge amounts of water that can sit around for months, paddocks that had previously been safe for livestock in most flood events are now dangerous due to the changed hydrology of the area.

This meant that more than 700 horses were urgently evacuated from the Lowlands in the early hours of Saturday morning, as the rising water caught many by surprise. This led to the cancellation of an international polo tournament which promised to pump millions of dollars into the local economy. 

First pictures reveal the compromised riverbank and flooded farmland at Cornwallis and Richmond Lowlands.

Pictures taken today and commissioned by the Hawkesbury Post show for the first time the extent of the catastrophe. A huge gaping hole in the river bank which was once paddocks. By sheer luck, this flood was not large enough to wash away the million dollars of pipes sitting on the river’s edge but previous floods have, washing them kilometres away onto local farms.  

The pictures also show that turf and livestock farms, land held by residents and polo fields remain submerged by flood waters – unable to now escape –  that would not have been there but for the riverside canyon.

Farmers and other residents of the Richmond Lowlands said the water came far more quickly, at a greater volume –  with flood level touching 12 metre at the weekend –  and earlier than it had in flood events, prior to the latest Cornwallis disaster.

“We would not have had this much water if it hadn’t been for the hole at Cornwallis,” Saliba said.

Another turf farmer, who asked not to be named said: “Rain happens and floods happen, we know that, but since the Cornwallis collapse, we are now getting mud and silt deposited on our turf and in such volumes  that it is unable to recover. The only hope this time is that we had a big volume of clean rain water ahead of the river flooding. The farmer said this flood had already cost them at least $3 million in lost turf and will have an impact on future contracts.

Saliba, said he had already lost millions of dollars due to silt from floods dumped on his property in the last flood but said it was still too early to ascertain the damage this time.“We should know in about a week how bad things are,” he said.

The HCCs bungled attempt to fix the initial problem and  the sheer financial scale of the problem – estimates for its repair have ranged between $10million – $40 million – has seen the work on the project handed to the NSW State Government. But the involvement of three government authorities: the NSW Reconstruction Authority, Public Works NSW and Transport for NSW has left the project without a clear owner.

The Post understands some turf farmers are considering compensation claims from the state government due to continuing inaction. “We got all flooded because they haven’t fixed up the hole in the riverbank, it’s ruined our farms again, this is all the council’s fault,” Charlie Saliba, a turf farmer with 350 acres of turf worth millions of dollars whose property is close to the Cornwallis Canyon told the Hawkesbury Post,

In answers to questions from the Post only weeks before the latest floods, Hawkesbury City Council says it is “too early at this stage to provide a timeline on the completion of the restoration works at Cornwallis.”

 “The (previous) floods completely destroyed everything with dirt and silt. We had to start over. There’s still about 20 acres to clean up in the next year, ” Saliba told the Post. “The water does not go to Windsor any more. That’s all because of the disaster at Cornwallis.”

He is furious with HCC.  “I have been to that many meetings and nothing happened, they will tell you they are starting next week –  for years now – and it’s all a lie. He added that HCC staff would not even entertain a discussion about compensation and promised to use the full force of its ratepayer funded legal resources to battle him, if he decided to sue. “It’s not their money so they would just keep going, “ he said.

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