TUESDAY February 6 marked the first ordinary council meeting for Wellington Shire in 2024.
No apologies were needed and the main proceedings were completed in less than 20 minutes.
Among the items, Northern Ward Councillor Carolyn Crossley spoke about the December 2023 Council Performance Report, noting there was a “slight” deficit of “three-quarters of a million dollars”.
“We’ve been assured confidence from the financial office that we will probably regain that and have a slight surplus by the end of the financial year,” Cr Crossley said.
Staffing and financial resources have focused on severe weather events that occurred last year, to the detriment of other lesser priorities and the budget bottom line.
The Capital Works Program is impacted, with costs to road maintenance going up and other works delayed.
“Everybody notices that the road in front of their house is degraded or there’s something wrong, so the impact on customer demands is quite significant in January,” Cr Crossley said.
Last month, Cr Crossley said there was 541 customer requests, compared to “nearly half that” in January 2023.
“I think it was reported there was a $10 million impact in the last four years of costs to the bottom line,” she said.
Cr Crossley said new building activity, sale of blocks, extra cash reserves from interest, and valuations from the Valuer-General were the positive stories in the report.
PORT Albert’s flood prone areas were also brought into the spotlight.
In 2014, council considered a report that areas of Port Albert likely to flood should be built to a finished floor level requirement of 2.25m ADH.
This would accommodate recommendations made by the West Gippsland Water Catchment Authority (WGCA) to plan for a 0.2 metre sea level rise scenario by 2040.
However, the state government approved a Planning Scheme Amendment in 2021, which essentially made the strategy redundant. This means that to appease the Victorian Planning Provisions, any land use and development projects in Port Albert need to plan for a sea level rise scenario of no less than 0.8 metres by 2100.
As such, the Wellington Shire Council’s Policy relating to planning for a 0.2 metre sea level rise was revoked at the ordinary council meeting on December 19, 2023.
DEVELOPMENT works were adopted to widen about 1.5 kilometres of Nordens Lane, Maffra as part of the annual Crest Widening Program.
Northern Ward Cr Carmel Ripper addressed council, saying Nordens Lane is a popular route used by cyclists – herself included – to avoid the busy Stratford-Maffra Road.
The stretch of road is notoriously narrow and includes a precarious curved bend and slim channel crossing that motorists, trucks, and cyclists must navigate daily.
The Crest Widening Program, implemented with the aim of enhancing the safety of rural road networks, involves the widening of crest sections on sealed roads. This measure serves to prevent drivers from using unsealed shoulders to navigate oncoming traffic.
Bairnsdale Road Services will undertake the project.
Cr Ripper concluded her address saying, “I look forward to cycling on that crest in due course”.
A PETITION regarding a feedlot in Cobains was also tabled, which was reportedly emitting pollution and creating a bad smell, this was one of the first items on the agenda.
The petition had been signed by residents, urging council to take action on the matter, and was originally presented at the November 21, 2023 meeting.
Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Ian Bye said the issue was “still ongoing”.
“We’re still gaining information to bring back to the proponents of that petition,” he said.
‘ADOPTION of Draft Wellington Shire Council Library Strategy 2024-28’ was listed on the agenda, but Wellington Shire Council Chief Executive, David Morcom asked for it to be withdrawn from the meeting, citing the challenges of last year’s flood events.
“Some of the year one targets already we’re going to be behind the eight ball if I can be really candid, because of the way we’ve recalibrated the resources of the organisation,” Mr Morcom said.
As written in the agenda before it was withdrawn: “During the initial stages of the Arts and Culture Strategy project, it was identified that there was also a need to lead a complementary Library Services Strategy project.
“As a result, specialist library consultants, I & J Management Services, were engaged to undertake a comprehensive review of Wellington Shire’s Library service, engage the community, and develop a Library Services Strategy to guide service development and the quality management of the service into the future.”
With the review completed and feedback incorporated, councillors were expected to adopt the new strategy. It’s expected to be revisited in the future.
“It’s a cake that’s not quite cooked,” Mr Morcom said.
AN email sent in asked about council’s Fair Access Policy tabled in December, which will analyse data to address known barriers experienced by women and girls in using community and sport infrastructure in the shire.
The questioner asked how the analysis could be done to make sure there is “no bias against women”.
Mr Morcom said it was a “good question”, and that a response would be sent to the questioner, and copies sent to councillors.
Addressing the gallery
CHRISTINE Timmerman of Alberton returned to the gallery to discuss the Gelliondale Wind Farm.
Ms Timmerman stated that until February 19, comments on the project’s environmental impact can be made to the federal government.
She said the situation wasn’t about whether someone was for wind turbines or not, it was about doing the right thing for the environment regarding this particular project and its process. She brought images of leaky turbines to show councillors.
Graham James of Gelliondale also returned to the gallery, once again speaking against the Gelliondale Wind Farm project, a Synergy Wind initiative. The proposed Gelliondale Wind Farm project consists of 13 turbines and associated infrastructure.
Mr James said the wind farm industry has a bad reputation with how they’ve conducted themselves in getting wind projects off the ground, and described Synergy Wind as among the worst of the “cowboy operators”. He said the company is hiding what the wind farms will actually look like in the landscape and what their impact will be.
The public meeting ended, and councillors went into a closed session.