Penrith Councillors have voted not to support the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall.
On Monday night, a majority of Councillors refused to give in principle support to the project, instead agreeing with Council officers that the proposal should not receive Council’s backing given a host of matters raised in the 18,000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) were not adequately addressed.
Liberal Councillors attempted to move an amendment recommending Council provide in principal support, subject to clarification of the issues contained in the EIS, but Labor Councillors were not having it.
Councillor John Thain labelled the proposal “under cooked” and said it had not been properly peer reviewed and noted the peak insurance body did not support it.
“We don’t have all the facts… there are other options that we haven’t seen,” he said.
Councillor Greg Davies said more answers were needed before “we jumped on board”.
“How can you put in principle support to something when clearly everyone around the table has said there’s not enough information?” he said.
In its submission to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Council acknowledged while the proposal does reduce the impact of flooding in Penrith and provides an estimated $2.6 billion damages cost saving for a 1 in 100 year flood event, there were “significant concerns” with the EIS.
“The review has identified a number of issues relating to the flood and evacuation modelling and implications; dam operations; biodiversity conservation implications; water quality; construction; traffic and asset management which are required to be addressed and responded to in the assessment,” it states.
Councillor Mark Davies argued it was time to put “party politics aside”.
“If you don’t support this in principle, you don’t support human life because there would be loss of life,” he stressed.
Cr Bernard Bratusa said Council could retract its support at any time.
“The in principle that we’re talking about is actually saving lives, it’s about saving homes,” he said.
“There’s absolutely nothing stopping us from withdrawing that further down the track if we don’t like what we’ve seen.”
The State Significant infrastructure project provides for flood mitigation through temporary storage and controlled release of inflows from a flood mitigation zone airspace created by the raised dam.
The scope of works includes raising the central spillway crest by approximately 12 metres, the auxiliary spillway crest by approximately 14 metres, the dam side walls and dam access road by up to 17 metres, and the establishment of a designated area within the existing dam precinct of about 105 hectares for construction and laydown areas.
In return, modelling shows for a 1 in 100 year flood event based on 2018 population densities, the number of homes impacted would be reduced from 7,600 to 2,500 with people to evacuate reduced from 14,000 to 5,000.
For a 1 in 500 year flood, the number of homes impacted would be reduced from 15,500 to 5,000 with evacuations reduced from 90,000 to 45,000.
Based on currently permissible growth and predicted population density in 2041 for a 1 in 500 year flood, homes impacted would be reduced from 26,000 to 6,100 with people to evacuate reduced from 135,000 to 53,000.
Alena Higgins is the Weekender’s Senior News Reporter, primarily covering courts and Council issues.