RED tape in the form of a new regulation from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is putting the development of Sandy Point and other unsewered coastal communities, such as Venus Bay, at risk.
That was the stern warning issued to South Gippsland Shire Council in a public presentation last Wednesday from Sandy Point Community Group President Neil Shaw.
In a new regulation in its Code of Practice relating to onsite wastewater management (domestic sewerage) the EPA stipulates that secondary sewerage must be at least 50 metres from a bore, where a ‘secondary’ system is defined as a modern, council-approved water treatment plant.
Advanced treatment systems (in which the final output water is further treated) need only be at least 20 metres from a bore.
However, as Dr Shaw explained, with Sandy Point riddled with bores – almost every property has one – the new rule makes it extremely difficult to site a sewerage system of any type – secondary or advanced.
“Blocks are about 15 metres wide, so a bore even 50 metres away could prevent any permits for a new sewerage system,” said Dr Shaw.
He said the restrictions would have a devastating impact on vacant land values, as people would not be able to build a house if they could not install a sewerage system. This, he said, would render a standard $250,000 block effectively worthless, and would do nothing to boost rates revenue.
Vacant blocks are only part of the problem, Dr Shaw continued. He pointed out that increasing numbers of the Baby Boomer generation are wishing to retire to their beach shacks – after they have been upgraded. Additions of modern comforts, such as en suites or second bathrooms, however, require upgrades to sewerage systems. Homeowners are caught in a bind when they find that existing bores prevent the issue of permits for new sewerage systems.
Dr Shaw said that the new regulation had come into effect back in February, but few people seemed to be aware of it. It had come to his attention as the president of the local community group. “People have been rattling our cage!” He urged council to inform the public, specifically Sandy Point property owners, and also inform local real estate agents so that they could advise prospective purchasers.
He also recommended that council lobby the EPA for a “local interpretation” for Sandy Point and for “some proper science” to justify a rule which he felt was hard to justify.
Cr Andrew McEwen remarked that with so many people due to retire in the next few years the potential ramifications of the issue were serious indeed. “This is a major issue. We should be going into bat on this,” he urged.
Cr Mohya Davies asked for a briefing so that councillors could be better informed on the matter, and Cr Jeanette Harding suggested that the briefing should be held over the summer when holiday house owners were around.
The shire’s director of development services, Phil Stone, said that the shire was in discussions with Southern Rural Water, especially in relation to new systems. “Don’t think we’re the only council facing this issue, though the full impact was possibly not understood until Dr Shaw’s very articulate presentation. It is a challenge for us. We’ll keep council informed,” he advised.