By Jeremy Sollars
A plan by the Chinese owners of Cherrabah Resort at Elbow Valley east of Warwick to extract up to a million litres of underground water annually from the property is back on the table, almost a year to the day after it was first withdrawn by the owners.
Brisbane-based brothers Wenxing and Wenwei Ma sought approval in late 2018 from the Southern Downs Regional Council for their plan to extract the water, which was to have been transported to the Gold Coast for bottling for human consumption.
The Ma brothers’ application had been due for consideration by councillors at their December 2018 general meeting but was unexpectedly withdrawn by the Ma’s prior to that meeting.
But the application has been re-submitted to the council and is on the agenda for this week’s December 2019 council meeting, the last general meeting for the year, to be held this Wednesday 18 December, with a recommendation from council officers for it to be approved.
Council’s planning officers last year recommended councillors refuse the original application but this time around have changed their tune, with a report to councillors stating the council has no power to dispute or challenge the State water allocations currently held by the Ma brothers.
This is despite the Southern Downs and Granite Belt regions being in the grip of the worst drought on record.
The original 2018 application was lodged through a commercial entity owned by the Ma brothers – Royal Duke Holdings – but the new application has been lodged under Cherrabah’s property holding entity ‘Joyful View Garden Real Estate Development Resort Co Pty Ltd’.
Other than that no details of the original plan to extract water for bottling on the Gold Coast appear to have been changed.
Cherrabah’s owners have a current licence to extract up to 96 megalitres of underground water per year from Cherrabah, until the year 2111.
A number of surrounding and nearby property owners in the Elbow Valley area have lodged formal objections to the new application, as was the case in 2018.
In 2018 many Elbow Valley locals did question the actual availability of the allocated water on Cherrabah due to drought conditions but in 2019 still remain aghast at the proposed water-grab by outside commercial interests.
The Ma brothers were also behind a much earlier proposal to develop Cherrabah into an international tourism venue, plans which to date have remained shelved since 2016.
Details from the council officers’ report to be tabled at this Wednesday’s council meeting –
“This application seeks approval to establish a water extraction and distribution facility within the north-eastern portion of the Cherrabah property at Elbow Valley.
“The proposed facility is to include a proprietary filter system and water storage tanks within a purpose-built shed.
“Bottling of water is not proposed to occur on site.
“Water is to be collected by a water tanker (19m articulated vehicles) and delivered to a bottling facility on the Gold Coast.
“The applicant has also outlined that the water will be made available for collection by agricultural or domestic users with standard B99 vehicles.
“Specific features of the proposed development include:
• Installation of (1) one purpose-built Water filtration and storage shed (24m x 10m)
• The filtration and storage component of the facility is proposed to be accommodated internally within the shed, specifically: Two (2) 30kL Water Storage Tanks; One (1) 47kL Feed Tank; One (1) 47kL Waste Tank; One (1) 40ft container housing ancillary pumping equipment; One (1) 20ft storage container
“The applicant has identified the development as an undefined use following discussions with Council in a pre-lodgement meeting, where it was recognised that the proposed use was not elsewhere specifically defined under the Southern Downs Planning Scheme.
“The property owner, Joyful View Garden Real Estate Development Resort Co. Pty Ltd, has an existing Water Licence issued by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy for the purpose of taking of underground water from the site for commercial purposes, providing an entitlement of 96 megalitres (ML) per water year (1 July to 30 June).
Comment is being sought from Southern Downs councillors as to their voting intention at Wednesday’s meeting, and from the Ma brothers.