FISH Creek’s community turned out in compelling numbers to attend a public meeting held on Wednesday evening March 17, 2021 to canvass local ideas and views on how best to solve the town’s historic and ongoing sewage and wastewater problem.
Every chair around the tables set up at COVID-safe distances was taken in the Fish Creek Memorial Hall for the Fish Creek Community Development Group’s (FCCDG) sewage and sewerage information, discussion and brainstorming session.
Current gathering restrictions meant that a maximum of 75 people was permitted inside the hall and this limit was swiftly reached when the front door was opened to admit the many actively interested and concerned members of the local community.
About 20 more people followed the proceedings and contributed their comments via the FCCDG’s Facebook livestream.
FCCDG president Craig Privett welcomed the community to the meeting, who together represented a wide range of the Fish Creek town and surrounding district’s demographic.
This included present generations, both young and old, of founding families, local business people and service providers, community groups and organisations, and individuals and families newly settled in the area.
South Gippsland Shire’s economic environmental health co-ordinator David Clarkson, development co-ordinator Ken Fraser, and infrastructure delivery manager John Moylan also attended the meeting as municipal observers, but all were soon drawn in as active discussion participants on their respective tables.
South Gippsland Water was represented by strategy, performance and governance manager Ros Griggs, and communication and engagement team leader Miranda Schooneveldt at the meeting.
Craig gave a brief history of the FCCDG and its activities, paying tribute to previous executive and ordinary members, and hailing their local advocacy and past achievements.
He also thanked the South Gippsland Shire Council for the $15,000 grant allocated recently to the FCCDG for new seating and acknowledged the efforts of other local organisations including the Fish Creek CFA and the Memorial Hall committee.
“The FCCDG will be applying for a $20,000 Federal Government grant later in the year for the town’s tennis courts, and we’ve identified a number of other issues and projects at our meetings, such as parking, festivals and Hall use.
“Right at the top of everyone’s lists though is poo and wastewater and how the community wants to manage it, now and in the future, and that’s why we’re all here tonight,” he said.
“This will only work if the whole community gets behind it.”
Craig likened the way of solving Fish Creek’s sewage situation to what anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu meant when he said, “the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time”.
“In our case, the FCCDG believes the way forward is to break the task up into smaller chunks, such as research, design and sourcing funding, and so we’ll need the community’s support, and people on several sub-committees or working groups,” he said.
“On each of the tables you will see there is paper and pens, and a list of seven broad questions we would like each table to explore during the next 40 minutes, with answers, suggestions and ideas to be written down so we have a record of what the community is thinking,” Craig said.
“All of the points made at the ten tables will be collected up and collated, and the resulting minutes of the meeting will be circulated to everyone,” he said.
“We want to make sure every voice is heard.”
Among the open questions posed to the community were; what impact the lack of sewage management has, how does Fish Creek look, smell and function like without it, what are the possible challenges and ways of dealing with them, and what benefits and opportunities might be possible if some form of management scheme is introduced.
Each table was also asked to list their fears, concerns and hesitations, to list the top three ideas and suggestions as to how effective and affordable sewage management could be achieved.
Dozens of sheets of paper were quickly covered with notes as the tables’ appointed scribes raced to list the ensuing flurries of thoughts, conjectures, complaints and solutions.
South Gippsland Water’s Ros Griggs spoke at the meeting, assuring the community that the authority “is here to support you as the community.
“I can give you a bit of a journey around some of the towns that have been fully or partially sewered during my time at SGW, including Waratah Bay, Alberton, Port Albert, Poowong, Loch and Nyora,” she said.
Ros said SGW is one of 19 water corporations in Victoria, and that “water corporations don’t always make our own decisions as we have to do what the State’s Essential Services Commission directs.”
She went on to describe some of the ways a sewerage systems can be arrived at in an individual town, including schemes mandated by the Victorian Government, and community-driven schemes such as the one at Alberton.
Ros also talked about some of the different technical designs and combinations that can be employed, including reticulation, pressure sewer systems, and pump-out septic systems.
“There are so many variables in sewerage, and Fish Creek is unique with its hilly topography, clay soils, big and little block sizes, and the dip right in the middle of town also makes it tricky, plus a treatment process would be needed, here,” she said.
Ros said SGW had undertaken a preliminary study for a sewerage scheme for Fish Creek around 2014 and that the community did not want to proceed because of the projected cost for each allotment to join the scheme.
She said that there were about 100 titles in the town and indicated that the present cost for a suitable scheme now could be around $5 million, so potentially from $40,000 to $50,000 plus connection charges per block.
Also, a minimum of 75 per cent of titleholders is needed to sign up before a scheme can proceed.
Craig said the community “has to find a way to structure the argument to get the money from the State Government, which is currently spending $10 million on a fence and new visitor facilities at Wilsons Promontory National Park.
“Thousands more visitors will go through to Fish Creek to get to the Prom, and the town cannot cope with the local demand let along even more tourists,” he said.
After the meeting, 19 people put their names down to be part of one or more of five proposed steering committees, including solutions and options for sewerage systems, proposal and business case, marketing and strategy, government and lobbying, and miscellaneous, according to their skills and experience.
“The FCCGD wants to thank everyone who attended the meeting, and now it looks like we’ve got some momentum going to achieve our goal,” Craig said.
“We’ll keep you all posted.”
See the meeting minutes and find out how to be part of the steering committees on the FCCDG Facebook page.