BROKEN: Where the proposed flood levee would have been built to protect the CBD from the Mary River.
BROKEN: Where the proposed flood levee would have been built to protect the CBD from the Mary River. Craig Warhurst

The council issues that split Gympie over 25 years

1. When the levee breaks

LET'S start with the obvious, and there was no way this was never going to make the list.

The ill-fated flood levee had all the ingredients of a perfect storm: a hot community topic in CBD flooding, and an idea which had the potential to cost a lot of money.

The idea of flood mitigation by building levees was first floated in early 2012 by the Queensland Liberal National Party's pitch of a state-wide Floodplain Security; an idea which was mooted by Gympie MP David Gibson as "the topography doesn't lend itself to levees".

 

BIG JOB: A levee big enough to hold back the flood of 1893 of 25.5m would be around six metres higher than the intersection of the Bruce Highway and Monkland Street.
BIG JOB: A levee big enough to hold back the flood of 1893 of 25.5m would be around six metres higher than the intersection of the Bruce Highway and Monkland Street. Craig Warhurst

One year later Gympie Regional Council launched a $200,000 flood study to analyse how to shore up the city's future.

It recommended a $22.7m levee, 13m high at its peak, be built between the Bruce Highway and the Mary River at Albert Park.

And then the floodgates opened.

The idea received both praise and scorn; former leaders like Mick Venardos slamming it as too expensive and an ongoing ratepayer burden while Wide Bay MP Warren Truss gave it tentative support.

The council put $4 million on the table for the project, but needed the state or federal governments to pitch in the rest.

Tensions within the council also soared, with Cr Ian Peterson calling for a public apology from ex-deputy mayor Tony Perrett over comments made in the debate.

 

Ian Peterson.
Ian Peterson. pa

By the end of the year, the debate had driven a clear divide in the community and the council, with questions raised over the awarding of more than $700,000 in design work on the project without public tender calls.

The entire project was ultimately swamped in early 2014 when the cost of the project blew out more than 50 per cent, and was projected at an actual cost of $34million.

It was left to lie in a watery grave, with only a faint flicker in the years since that anyone may try to raise this Titanic again.

2. Portfolio push

WE ALL know when the public are upset by a council decision, but what about one that provokes nearby regional councils to comment?

In 2012, Gympie Regional Council made what to most people was a change with little consequence on their day-to-day lives: switching from the committee system of old, and bringing in councillor portfolios.

While GRC made the switch first, it was soon adopted by the Sunshine Coast Regional Council.

And it was a move which drew the ire of ex-Noosa mayor Noel Playford, who said the system was one which would bring back a level of secrecy not seen in local councils in more than 30 years.

 

Mayor Ron Dyne.
Mayor Ron Dyne. Renee Pilcher

Mr Playford said the change would cut down on the number of meetings, curb public and media scrutiny, and at worst would bring in a system in which councillors started to meet behind closed doors to discuss issues before bringing out a rubber stamp at the meeting.

The new system was defended by Gympie Mayor Ron Dyne as just as open as committees, and more efficient.

And the controversy has had a long shelf life, introducing a bugbear that GRC still struggles with today, despite their efforts, including publishing agendas before meetings and records of how councillors vote.

3. Coupons refuse to be parked

PARKING in Mary St has always been a touchy subject, but in the 1990 the council raised the level it to a new height.

Although parking meters had been used in the CBD for some time, the decision was made to switch to coupons instead.

While the idea is similar to modern-day ticketed parking, it was troubled by the unfortunate fact that visitors (and even some locals) were left in the dark over where to buy them, or that they were even needed at all.

In September 1991, Frank Lightfoot called for the council to scrap the plan at the end of its trial period, petitioning in the street - and even landing the signature of a police officer who came to check he was allowed to be there.

 

TICKET TO PARK: Mayor Adrian McClintock with a new scratch-style parking coupon in 1996.
TICKET TO PARK: Mayor Adrian McClintock with a new scratch-style parking coupon in 1996. contributed

In May 1992, the 12-member Gympie Traders Association voted unanimously to continue the system after 45 minutes of debate, reaching the conclusion they were the best and only feasible parking for the CBD.

They agreed that new meters would not suit the beautified Mary St.

And on it went through the 90s, including a 1996 motion by Cooloola Shire Council mayor Adrian McClintock to ditch them for free parking that was defeated six votes to seven.

The traders' position was one which took hold for a while, as the coupons were not dropped until shortly after Mick Venardos was elected for his second term.

4. Pavilion problems

A PUSH to build a new pavilion at the Gympie Showgrounds in the mid-90s no doubt sounded like a prime deal at the time, but it was a decision which ultimately ended mayor Adrian McClintock's run.

The project was funded by two parts - public fundraising, and a council contribution on the overrun. A great idea in theory. In practice was where it fell over.

While the project attracted a large number of community donations, it was only enough to get the building over the line.

A great achievement, if you don't want to enjoy the comforts like chairs and tables, and an audio system - all the things which a fully functioning centrepiece needs.

And the council were left holding the bill.

At the end, the cost overrun on the project sat at about $1million - a cost which was paid not only by ratepayers but also by Cr McClintock, who was toppled by Mick Venardos.

5. Divisive divisions

AMALGAMATION was always going to be a contentious issue, but the fallout after it was over the region's divisions.

In the lead-up to creating Gympie Regional Council it was decided that the first election would be division-less, with the idea to be revisited again in the future.

And how it was.

The idea of splitting the region also split the council and the community.

 

IN DIVISION: Reg Lawler shows a map of how to make divisions work in the region.
IN DIVISION: Reg Lawler shows a map of how to make divisions work in the region. Craig Warhurst

Multiple public surveys were rolled out over the issue, a step which Cr Jan Watt called "imperative", and two sides became clear: Mayor Ron Dyne was firmly against, while Reg Lawler set up shop in the "for" corner.

Public consultation showed the public wanted them, a position consistently ignored by the council - right up until Local Government Minister Paul Lucas stepped in.

Electoral divisions were soon recommended, with Cr Dyne and Mr Lawler agreeing the recommendations ultimately made were good for democracy.

Gympie Times


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