Geoff Helisma |
Councillors have granted a temporary reprieve for a sawmill – at Coaldale Road, The Pinnacles – that has been operating unlawfully since January 1, 2003, according to staff’s report to the February 21 meeting of Clarence Valley Council (CVC).
The mill, which has raised the ire of nearby residents, was approved to operate by then Copmanhurst shire council in 1996, after which its operation was modified to include wood-chipping in 1998.
Consent to operate expired in 2003 and CVC has “no record of a subsequent renewal of the sawmill”, the report to council stated.
The “unlawful” operation of the mill became known to CVC when residents made complaints in March 2017 about “noise, road safety and the possible unlawful use of the land”.
The council subsequently advised the land owner to “cease operations or lodge a development application (DA) to avoid legal action” – the DA should also address “the issues raised by residents”.
In August last year, a Section 96 application was lodged as a modification to the existing consent, however, council officers reject this in the report to council on the grounds that it is “not substantially the same development for which consent was originally granted” and that CVC “has no legal ability to approve” the modification.
At the meeting, councillors Greg Clancy, Peter Ellem and Karen Toms supported the officer’s recommendation, which was lost 5-3.
Subsequently, seven councillors voted to adopt the previous week’s Environment, Planning & Community Committee recommendation – Cr Jason Kingsley declared an interest and did not participate; and Cr Clancy was opposed.
Councillors decided to defer the item “to allow a modification to be received before the end of February 2018” and allowed the “operation of the sawmill [to continue] pending entering into a voluntary agreement” that concurs with the “1998 consent including the hours of operation”.
The 1998 approval allowed chipping to a volume of 1,000 cubic metres per annum and the milling of 2,080 cubic metres of sawn timber per annum.
Currently, the report to council stated, 5,280 cubic metres of timber is being sawn and 6,250 cubic metres of waste material is being chipped – a total of 11,450 cubic metres.
The sawmill operator had sought an approval to “expand to an output of not more than 50,000m3 per annum of processed material [among other improvements] without the submission and approval of a new DA”, the report to council stated.
Councillor Arthur Lysaught said he couldn’t “believe we are talking about taking a living away from eight families”.
Councillor Ellem said supporting the council officer’s recommendation was “the only sensible” action.
Councillor Toms said the overall situation was “confusing” and that she was “sitting on the fence” while considering the residents’ concerns and the workers who would lose their jobs if the mill was ordered to cease operations.
Councillor Andrew Baker said he couldn’t take “this risk to their working lives when there is a foreshadowed [and subsequently adopted] motion that allows them to clean up and [address] illegalities”.
Mayor Jim Simmons said he was “prepared to give a little bit more time” for the applicant to make modification to its application.
Councillor Richie Williamson said he was “happy for the process to continue” regarding modification to the application.
Councillor Greg Clancy said the jobs at stake were not the council’s responsibility; it is “new owners who have been working illegally … I won’t condone it”.
“I think it is wrong to be putting the pressure on the whistleblowers,” he said.
Nineteen submissions and one petition (205 signatories) were lodged against the proposal.
Internally, CVC’s engineering and health staff supported the proposal in relation to traffic and noise issues, however, overall the staff said “the fundamental factor [for consideration] is whether Council can lawfully approve this Section 96 modification”.