Celebrations ensued after Lismore MP Thomas George announced that a buy back of three of Metgasco's exploratory licences in the Northern Rivers was imminent.
Celebrations ensued after Lismore MP Thomas George announced that a buy back of three of Metgasco's exploratory licences in the Northern Rivers was imminent. Marc Stapelberg

Our biggest stories of 2015

Metgasco gone

THE SAGA that was coal seam gas on the Northern Rivers finally ended just before Christmas when Metgasco shareholders accepted the NSW Government's licence buyout offer of $25 million.

It may have been a long time coming for some, but who would have thought back in 2010 that five years later the industry would be seen off for good?

After the history-making Bentley blockade, the NSW Government realized it had a politically damaging hot potato in its hands and needed to act quickly to buy back the licences. Metgasco also recognized that the industry had no hope of progressing here, and smartly decided to take the money.

 

Lighthouse Beach at Ballina closed after a shark attack. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Lighthouse Beach at Ballina closed after a shark attack. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

Shark fears

THE North Coast experienced four critical shark attacks in 2015, one which was fatal. Three of those attacks occurred in Ballina on a stretch of beach just 800m wide. All victims were surfers.

The unprecedented spate of encounters, which followed the first fatal attack in Byron Bay in more than 20 years last September, prompted the NSW Government to launch its "world-first" $16 million shark strategy in October.

It promised a new generation of eco-friendly shark attack mitigation technologies for our region, including two eco-barriers destined for Lennox Head and Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, 4G listening buoys and smart drum lines, and a tagging program.

Time will tell whether the rollout of the strategy will have an impact, but 2015 will be remembered as the year sharks dominated headlines in our region.

The new Tintenbar to Ewingsdale Pacific Highway upgrade was officially opened by local MP Kevin Hogan, NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay and Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss at the Byron Bay tunnels on the Pacific Motorway. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
The new Tintenbar to Ewingsdale Pacific Highway upgrade was officially opened by local MP Kevin Hogan, NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay and Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss at the Byron Bay tunnels on the Pacific Motorway. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

Highway opens

AFTER eight years and more than $800 million, the 16km Tintenbar to Ewingsdale upgrade finally opened to traffic a week before Christmas.

While the work won't actually be fully complete until Easter 2016, the opening of the dual-lane highway came as a long-awaited blessing for local road safety.

The old undivided highway stretch, especially around Bangalow, has seen countless tragedies over the last two decades while the community was waiting for the new road.

The region can now looks forward to the completion of the highway south of Ballina by 2020, a stretch which also experienced its share of road tragedies this year.

Emergency services at the Lismore Base Hospital where scaffolding collapsed during a storm. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
Emergency services at the Lismore Base Hospital where scaffolding collapsed during a storm. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

Maternity ward collapses

A FREAK hail storm struck Lismore Base Hospital on a Sunday afternoon in late November and forced the evacuation of 19 people including five mums and their newborn babies when construction scaffolding collapsed on the hospital's temporary maternity ward.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the storm produced hail stones of 4-5cm and wind gusts of 87kmh.

In a miracle escape, no one was seriously injured in the incident. 

Federal cash splash

FEDERAL Page MP Kevin Hogan delivered a huge Christmas present to the region when he announced $12.6 million in funding to five long-awaited local projects earlier this month.

Locally, the Casino saleyards upgrade, a new Ballina Marine Rescue tower, the Lismore quadrangle project, Kyogle Council's plan for a sealed road to Toonumbar Dam, and improvements to the Harwood sugar mill and refinery all received enough money to proceed in 2016.

All of the projects were "shovel-ready" but had been seeking federal funding for several years. Less than a year out from the next election it seemed the new Turnbull Government astutely decided it was time to open their cheque book for Page, a marginal seat.

Danielle Mulholland Kyogle's new Mayor.
Danielle Mulholland Kyogle's new Mayor. Doug Eaton

Council amalgamations

THE threat of council amalgamations loomed large over the Northern Rivers this year with Tweed, Clarence Valley, and Kyogle councils ruled financially "unfit" late this year in the culmination of the State Government's long-running council review process.

Despite the ominous rhetoric from Macquarie St, ultimately the Baird government elected not to force any mergers on the Northern Rivers, with Kyogle ratepayers breathing a sigh of relief after fears their council might be amalgamated with Richmond Valley or Lismore. An earlier case study proved that would be a costly and rather pointless exercise.

Jackson Byrnes of Casino
Jackson Byrnes of Casino Contributed

Jackson Byrnes

THE diagnosis of Casino teenager Jackson Byrnes with deadly brain tumours saw an outpouring of community generosity as hundreds rallied to raise the more than $80,000 needed for potentially life-saving surgery.

What seemed like an impossible task with a timeframe of less than a week, was surpassed and Jackson's seven hour surgery under the guise of world renowned brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo in Sydney was successful and the 18-year-old retuned home in April to recover.

Given the incredible journey and resilience shown by someone so young, there were no words to describe the collect grief felt when Jackson passed away earlier this month as a result of the tumours returning.

Sapper David Wood while on his second tour of Afghanistan in 2012. Photo Contributed
Sapper David Wood while on his second tour of Afghanistan in 2012. Photo Contributed Contributed

David Wood

AFGHANISTAN veteran David Wood, who took his own life in 2013 as result of post-traumatic-stress-disorder, became the first victim of war-induced PTSD to be added to the nation's roll of honour at the Australian War Memorial in March.

After enlisting in the Army when he was 17, David trained as a frontline engineer, known as sappers, and later gained combat medic qualifications after his first tour of Afghanistan in 2010.

It was during his second tour in 2012 when a multitude of traumatic events unfolded that triggered the condition that ultimately pushed him to take his own life.

Dripping Tap: Fears water rates will soar in the coming years.
Dripping Tap: Fears water rates will soar in the coming years. Griffith Thomas

Fluoride in our water

AFTER years of controversy which split communities, Rous Water was given permission to switch on four new fluoridation systems in September.

This meant all public water supplies in Ballina, Richmond Valley and Lismore City Councils were fluoridated.

However, Byron Council voted to keep fluoride out of its water supply.

Billie McKay wins Masterchef 2015
Billie McKay wins Masterchef 2015

Billie wins MasterChef

IN WHAT was described by food critic Matt Preston as "the greatest comeback ever seen in Masterchef history", Ballina's Billie McKay was crowned this year's Australia MasterChef.

Trailing by four points behind finalist Georgia in the first two rounds of the grand final, Ms McKay had to excel at the biggest pressure test ever devised for the food-lovers TV series.

After the win, Billie confirmed she has taken Chef Heston Blumenthal's surprise offer of a job at his UK restaurant The Fat Duck.



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