• Tony Bosworth

River banks hit hard across the Hawkesbury – Task Group launched

“If we don’t get some kind of progress or answers about what’s going to happen with the river bank soon, we are going to be out of business,” says Shane Earl, co-manager of Sackville Ski Gardens.

And while Sackville was certainly hit extremely hard by the floods, Mr Earl is not the only one deeply concerned about how much Hawkesbury riverbank has been swept into the rivers.

Sackville Ski Gardens co-manager Rebecca Earl, owner Gary Hayes, Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, and co-manager Shane Earl survey the damage left by the floods at the park

He says without urgent action both business and the local economy will suffer.

“Our place is a caravan park where people use the river for leisure. If we can’t provide that we will not have people here. We have 147 sites, they come from out of the area where they spend money in the town and shops.

“It’s not just about us, it’s about the café around the corner, and the service station up the road. It’s about all of us.”

The flood emergency saw massive sections of the Hawkesbury riverbank simply swept away in to the river. It is having a major impact on farmers and businesses who operate near the riverbanks.

Marge Prendergast, Executive Director of Resilience NSW, told the Post the

flooding across the Hawkesbury-Nepean valley had, “caused significant inundation and resulted in damage and changes to the river banks of the rivers, creeks and tributaries”.

She said Resilience NSW was working with the local councils, including Hawkesbury, through the Regional Recovery Committee to deliver a range of flood recovery strategies to communities and businesses.

“As part of the immediate clean-up, work is underway with Caravan Park owners, turf farmers and other business and residents along the river banks to identify immediate clean-up needs.

“Any businesses or residents who require further assistance with clean-up should register with their local council,” Ms Prendergast said.

Macquarie MP, Susan Templeman, who has been visiting those areas most impacted by the floods, said she was calling on all levels of government to urgently ensure landowners could complete emergency stabilisation works on Hawkesbury riverbanks so families and businesses could start to recover from the floods.

“The river banks have been left extremely unstable following the floods. There are massive holes along the riverbanks, some holes larger than Olympic swimming pools,” Ms Templeman said.

“People are facing banks that have collapsed or are in danger of collapsing in multiple places, and local turf growers, vegetable farmers and caravan park owners have told me they need to get them fixed quickly to resume business and earn an income.

“Time and time again people have said that they’ve spent years trying to get permission to do stabilisation works, but that the red tape has made it impossible,” Ms Templeman said.

“Visiting farms and caravan parks around the Hawkesbury, you can see where the cracks in the banks start metres in from the actual drop to the river.

“It’s a dangerous situation and it needs to be prioritised by Hawkesbury City Council, the NSW Government and Federal Government.

“Turf and vegetable farmers need stable banks to get their pumps working properly to aid recovery, caravan parks need to shore-up their sites before people can come back in.

“Families want to be able to get back to their blocks safely, business need to re-start full operations. They need assistance, not red tape. I know the State Member for Hawkesbury [Robyn Preston] is aware of the issue and trying to resolve it also, and I agree with her that it needs to be addressed urgently.”

Ms Prendergast said, “the need to scope and quantify the damage to the river banks has been identified as a high priority and this work has commenced with SES and Public Works Advisory.

“A Task Group is being established as part of the recovery strategy to identify the immediate and long term issues related to the river bank damage after the floods,” Ms Prendergast said.

“Membership will include councils, NSW government agencies and industry representatives. It will be chaired by Resilience NSW.”

Ms Prendergast said Resilience NSW had been working closely with Hawkesbury turf farmers, “and we have confirmed that minor remedial work to reinstate previously approved pumps is considered an exempt activity under the Water Management Act 2000, and further approvals are not required. This is now being communicated to the turf farmers”.

But it's not just turf farmers who are in difficult situations due to crumbling or disappeared sections of riverbank.

Ms Templeman says, “Sackville Ski Gardens is one of many businesses that are in limbo until there’s a resolution to this situation. When I visited, owner Gary Hayes showed me where the banks had collapsed, and where they remained dangerous.

“We need a system in place where people like Gary can be fast-tracked through the system to complete urgent works in a safe manner so they can get back on their feet again.

“I’ve been pleased that the NSW Government has allowed emergency restoration of pumps for farmers so they can try and save their crops and start to grow their next one,” Ms Templeman said.

“I also welcome the decision to bring together the key agencies to work out what happens next with the riverbanks. Right now, there is a big threat of ongoing erosion and more environmental damage, as well as a shocking impact on individual landholders.”

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