By Jeremy Sollars
The Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce will offer the Southern Downs Regional Council $8000 to secure environmental approvals to progress the proposed Emu Swamp Dam project.
The offer is substantially below the council’s asking price of $1,501,980 as outlined in its tender documents, which it terms “cost recovery”.
The council put the approvals up for sale by tender this month in what is seen at best as a hopeful bid to claw back funds expended by previous councils in moving the dam project forward, and at worst a grab for cash.
This is despite the Chamber of Commerce – which is the ‘proponent’ for the dam and is finalising a business case to secure State and Federal funding – being the only likely bidder for the approvals.
The Chamber of Commerce has previously pointed out that under Queensland law such approvals can be released free of charge to a non-profit group like the Chamber under “community interest” provisions.
But the council has deemed the approvals to be council “assets” which can be sold off commercially to the highest bidder, even though Mayor Tracy Dobie has made it publicly clear the council does not support Emu Swamp Dam.
Cr Dobie has repeatedly stated the council will not help fund the dam’s construction, even though its supporters have always conceded the project is beyond the financial scope of the council and would need State and Federal funds to be built.
The Chamber has made it clear the current detailed business case being prepared for the State and Federal governments has no reliance on any council contributions, but does factor in nearly $24 million from private farming family investors.
In its tender document submitted to the council last week the Chamber points out that a significant amount of funds have been expended directly by the community since as far back as 2007 to try and make Emu Swamp Dam a reality.
The environmental approvals were granted to the council by the Queensland Government in September 2014 and were extended to include federal approvals in November 2014.
“In this nearly eight-year period significant funds, support activities and expertise were contributed in the development of the Approvals by State Government officers from the then DNR, QDPI and Dept State Development, State Government grants, private funds as well as ratepayer funds,” the Chamber’s tender documents state.
“Consequently the Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber do not believe the ‘cost recovery’ for disposal of the Approvals by just one party is equitable or morally correct.
“The approvals were sought for the purpose of developing a dam and pipeline network, not for sale or cost recovery if the project did not proceed under the council’s stewardship.
“The costs were incurred by the council, representing the community, from annual expenditure and it is believed that the approvals were never classified as assets.”
Because the tender won’t be concluded by the council until just before Christmas the Chamber has also pointed out the process chosen by the council will add to the delays in planning for the dam.
The Chamber will complete its business case and deliver it to the State Government by the end of November.
Approval of the business case by the State Government is the next step before federal funding can be sought.