Disaster plan plea

YAMBA is a town of approximately 6000 residents sitting on predominately low-lying land surrounded on all four sides by tidal bodies of water and tethered to the mainland by a strip of land approximately 1.25 kilometres wide, according to a scaled map.

On April 17, The Daily Examiner published a front page article Yamba Prone To Disaster?

This article pointed out that Yamba will have difficulties coping with the predicted bigger floods of longer duration and increasingly severe storms accompanied by storm surges.

Part of this difficulty is the limited evacuation options open to residents should Yamba Road be cut by floodwater in any of the three to four places it has been cut in the past, thereby denying access to high ground at Yamba Hill for a considerable number of residents and/or preventing movement inland towards Maclean or the Pacific Highway.

Floodwater in certain side roads or across Angourie Road will also cause problems for residents seeking high ground.

The Daily Examiner article went on to say that the State Emergency Service (SES) was concerned about this situation and that its submission to Clarence Valley Council regarding proposed large-scale urban development in Yamba recommended in effect that the Maclean Local Environmental Plan 2001 (LEP) amendment for West Yamba be deferred pending further study.

The SES were right to draw council's attention to the problems which may be experienced as severe weather events become more common.

According to Clarence Valley Council documents, Yamba flooding can occur because of a combination of high river flows, high ocean levels, wind-wave action along the foreshore or from intense rain over the local catchment (Webb, McKeown and Associates, 2009, 'Yamba Floodplain Risk Management Plan').

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a storm surge is a large amount of water pushed towards the shore, which combining with the existing tide and/or floodwater, raises the mean water level by 15 feet or more depending on the inclination of the underwater shelf leading to the foreshore.

Wind-driven waves are superimposed on this surge and the total effect is often swift and destructive flooding of coastal areas ( www.nhs.noaa.gov, April 18, 2009).

It is easy for the average person to recall that in the last decade storm surges have caused loss of life in America, India, South-East Asia and New Guinea.

It is also easy for Yamba locals to recall that severe 'east-coast lows' are sometimes preceded by days of rain and have been known to follow close on the heels of a Clarence Valley flood.

So here we have a town, with a large retiree population, two aged-care facilities and more than a few people without a car, faced with the probability that from now on it will be more vulnerable in floods and severe storms and, that there may be some risk to life as well as anywhere between $1.9 million to $113.7 million worth of property damage from any one severe adverse weather event (Webb, McKeown and Associates, 2009, 'Yamba Floodplain Risk Management Plan').

What does Clarence Valley Council do when faced with this risk scenario?

Does it look at the recent reports from reputable CSIRO researchers which state that sea levels are rising faster than was thought (University of Copenhagen, 2009, Climate Change International Scientific Congress) and move to protect existing residents by immediately beginning to organise a co-ordinated emergency evacuation plan? No, it does not.

What is does is decide to progress the proposed development of West Yamba (based on what appears to be 2007 predicted sea-level data), thereby eventually adding another 2000 to 2500 people to an already vulnerable population and taking away yet another section of local flood storage land, at the same time deciding that it will ask for money from a cash-strapped NSW Government to put together some sort of plan with the help of emergency services at some indefinite point in the future.

Why does it do this?

Well, on reading council's February 24, 2009 ordinary monthly meeting minutes and attachments, it appears that it has accepted the argument that to defer the LEP amendment would not be 'considered reasonable'. So intent are our nine councillors on appeasing a select group of property speculators and so determined are they to widen the Yamba rate base, that these same councillors are willing to ignore their duty of care and the risk to residents' lives in favour of being 'reasonable'.

Clarence Valley Council obviously has not taken note of the fact that should individuals in the expanded Yamba population experience property loss or loss of a family member as a result of predicted flooding/surges, it would be within the realms of possibility that council would face both individual litigation and a class action.

Our nine councillors should also remember that, in certain circumstances, they do not have full indemnity for the resolutions they pass. Or perhaps they do remember and that is the reason for the deafening silence on the subject of Yamba since they passed the West Yamba amendment?

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