Mayor explains: Levee bank is still a 'no-brainer'
It's a story of choices.
With plans well underway for the new ring-road which will speed traffic along the National Highway, choices have already been made. The new part of the Bruce Highway will be built low to the ground.
This has two benefits.
The first is clearly a cost saving, a significant one, and the second benefit is that there will be less water pushed back onto rural properties when the mighty Fitzroy is in flood. The new Highway cuts across the flood water making its way from the Pink Lily break out through the Yeppen roundabout to re-join the Fitzroy at the bottom end of Depot Hill.
The second decision that has already been made is that, in times of flood, the Bruce Highway will revert to its current route along Gladstone Road.
And now we come to the third, very significant decision for our own community. This decision is now upon us.
We know that when the Fitzroy River is in flood Gladstone Road also floods. The Gladstone Road floodwater is water that is pushed back across Depot Hill, Port Curtis and Allenstown when the 'breakout' water tries to re-join the main Fitzroy River flow.
There are two proposals to protect Gladstone Road from flooding and to keep the Bruce Highway open.
Both proposals cost approximately the same amount of money.
The first option is to build the South Rockhampton flood levee and the alternative is to build up the height of Gladstone Road so that through traffic is above the flood level.
Both the South Rockhampton Flood Levee and the raising of Gladstone Road (over half a metre in some parts with businesses likely accessed by a service lane) were originally estimated at $60 million each, and then it went to $70 million, and now they are just over $100 million each. We need to choose between them.
The escalation in both cases has come about through more detailed design being prepared and the passage of time.
Prices don't often go down the longer you leave things.
But there is a big difference in what the two proposals achieve for us as a community - and a very big difference in who pays for what.
The Gladstone Road Levee (that is really what it is) will protect Allenstown but leave Depot Hill and Port Curtis schools swimming. It will protect Allenstown Plaza but leave Hastings Deering and dozens of small light industrial businesses swimming. It will protect retail businesses on one side of Gladstone Road but leave businesses on the other side and the lower stretches of East Street swimming.
The South Rockhampton Levee Bank will protect 1500 properties, two schools and 3000 jobs.
It would seem a no-brainer.
Excepting the devil is in the detail of who pays for what.
With the South Rockhampton Flood Levee, Council has put $30 million on the table and secured $25 million from both the State and Federal Governments.
There remains a shortfall of around $30 million. We have asked for $15 million each from State and Federal government- money that we will need to know is available but which doesn't need to be paid for two years.
However if the Gladstone Road Levee is constructed, there is no Council money involved. The State and Federal Government's split the cost on a ratio of 20% for the State and 80% for the Federal Government. (This is an established agreement about how the national highway is funded.)
Clearly the South Rockhampton Levee Bank is a better solution for our community.
And a new independently audited business case (taking into account the increased cost) was still a glowing endorsement of the argument to build the South Rockhampton flood levee bank.
It's still a no-brainer.
The state of play at the moment is that I have met with the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and he was open to a conversation about further funding.
We are still in conversation with the State Government.
What we don't need is for our community to once again become the football between levels of government and two political forces.
We know that this is a big sum of money.
But we are so close ... so close in fact that the call on whether to proceed with the project must be made within the next two to three weeks.
We had already embarked on a lot of the preliminary work towards appointing a contract and without an answer to our request we need to stand down our project team.
We are scouring through the schedule looking for savings - a couple of hundred thousand here, a couple of hundred thousand there - that could be put off until later. But the reality is that we are not going to find $30 million.
There can be few projects with the potential to rewrite Rockhampton's story in such a positive way as the South Rockhampton Levee Bank. It simply must go ahead.