Bill for sewerage work doubles

DISBELIEF turned to frustration and even anger at an extraordinary Lismore City Council meeting on Tuesday night when councillors were told the desperately needed Southern Trunk sewerage line could cost as much as $15 million, not the $7 million they approved in December.

As a direct result of the cost blow-out, councillors were informed all of council’s planned capital works would be deferred, including the long-promised Clunes wastewater system.

However, the extent of the delays will not be known until after another report to be delivered next month.

It was also revealed that council staff had been aware of the need for a new trunk line since 1995 and had costed the project at $14 million, but the report ‘only came to light a couple of weeks ago’.

Unless the trunk line is built no new land can be released, including numerous sites councillors voted to allow for development as little as two weeks ago.

Furious councillors who thought Tuesday night was to be a routine meeting to sign off on a $6 million interest-free loan from the State Government for the project pushed through a suspension of standing orders so they could question staff.

The Northern Star reported last June the council had suddenly discovered the Southern Trunk line was at or near capacity and regularly overflowed in the wet.

General manager Paul O’Sullivan conceded the trunk line would not be fully costed for another couple of months, but staff believed it would cost $12 million, not the $15 million estimated by sewerage infrastructure specialists MWH.

Infrastructure services executive director, Garry Hemsworth, said the reason for the large difference was the allowances made by MWH for contingencies, or unforeseen costs, which he argued were too much.

He told councillors that although staff had originally seriously underestimated the cost of the project they had done the best job with the information available at the time.

Adding to the urgency of resolving the issue at the meeting, the council had to accept the interest-free loan by the end of the month and agree to complete the work within 18 months, or the money had to be immediately returned.

Despite the truncated timeframe, with council still needing to determine the route, the design and if any private land needs to be compulsorily acquired, Mr Hemsworth said it was possible to complete the project if council spent almost $900,000 to employ NSW Public Works to get it to construction stage.

He said it was also hoped the partnership with Public Works wouldallay Government fears if the project was not running to schedule.

Council finance manager Rino Santin said ratepayers who would be connected to the line would be charged an additional $14 on top of the $141 increase in charges already slated for next financial year.

Mr Santin said the council would have to borrow the additional funds at market rates and would take the council’s borrowings to the maximum recommended benchmark.

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