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Tirade unleashed

SOUTH Gippsland Shire Councillor Jeremy Rich has unleashed an attack on council CEO Tim Tamlin and officers, calling on council to drop its “adversarial” approach to businesses.

Addressing council as a citizen during last Wednesday’s public presentation session, Cr Rich criticised council over its handling of his family’s longstanding dispute with council about access to water on the council-owned Walkerville retarding basin, which also services the Rich family’s Walkerville farm.

His comments were the latest chapter in the saga that has already cost council $165,000 in settlement and legal fees, according to Cr Rich, and $20,000 more to come in dam works.

Cr Rich told The Star “The CEO has not been accountable to date for the strategy and tactics he instructed the solicitors to take” at a Supreme Court hearing.

He also stated, “I find the attitude of the shire’s CEO and officers to be disappointing, and not in line with the shire’s council plan.”

Cr Rich’s speech was prompted by a report to last Wednesday’s council meeting – from the council’s executive office – expressing council’s take on the history of the dispute.

Cr Rich told The Star his family company, Ansevata Nominees, would now undertake independent scientific appraisal and will then consider its options. Council is bracing itself for the possibility of further legal action as a result of the report.

“It is possible that the consideration and sound rebuttal of the Ansevata concerns through this report and recommendations, may trigger some further legal action by Ansevata,” the report stated.

Ansevata has given council a bill for $198,892.06 it claims is for water it was not able to take from the basin to use on the farm and the company’s claim the cost of alternative water should be borne by council.

But a council report to last Wednesday’s meeting stated, “…it does not appear Ansevata has actually incurred any cost. To pay Ansevata an amount for water it has chosen not to take would simply be a financial windfall for Ansevata.”

Cr Rich said his family had been treated in an adversarial manner by council and other parties dealing with council had been treated the same way.

“It is the role of councillors to not just take instructions from public servants but to give direction,” he said.

The issue dates back to an agreement written between Ansevata Nominees and the former Shire of Woorayl in 1990. The Woorayl Shire bought the basin land from Ansevata for stormwater management of the Prom Views Estate.

Ansevata retained rights to use water from the basin for agricultural purposes but has claimed the water is contaminated with E.coli and unfit for farming purposes.

According to a council report, that agreement has “drafting deficiencies”, with “vague and ill-defined terms”, and “a lack of certainty about the detail of particular rights and obligations”.

Ansevata has claimed council has not taken adequate action to prevent untreated septic tank effluent from entering the dam, but an engineers’ report commissioned by council found no human faecal bacteria, but rather animal bacteriods, most likely from birds.

The engineers’ report also found the water was suitable for irrigation on pasture and crops and for watering stock – a finding also made by a veterinary scientist commissioned by council.

Cr Rich disagreed.

“The council officer’s report states that the Ansevata debt is ‘fabricated’ in part because it was Ansevata’s decision to not take the water. Council directed Ansevata that the water could not be taken when there was a high E.coli reading in March 2016,” he said.

“The officer’s report says that Ansevata has been told by council many times since then that the water is suitable for use and can be taken. Is that in writing? If so when?”

Council took 476 kilolitres of water from the basin for council roadworks in 2015, believing it had the right to do so under the agreement, but Ansevata disputed this and look legal action against council.

The council report stated that to bring that litigation to an end, council agreed to a variation of the agreement to make it clear council would not take water in the future and pay Ansevata $65,000.

Ansevata has also claimed council has allowed sediment to build up in the dam, reducing its capacity. Council will increase the capacity at a cost of $20,000.

Cr Rich questioned the adequacy of council’s testing of water from the basin and for not making test results available to Ansevata, despite the agreement requiring council to do so. Water testing has cost council $101,472 so far.

Council voted to accept the council report and reinstate the capacity of the Walkerville retarding basin, with councillors Don Hill and Andrew McEwen the only ones to oppose doing so. Cr Rich was absent from the vote.

Cr Rich said he would remain as a councillor.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=24576

Posted by on Apr 4 2018. Filed under Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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