Since the Council decision to go ahead with the Levee in 2010, there has been very little public discussion or consultation about the levee. We raised concerns in our submission to the Council’s budget in 2015 and continued to express concerns during the period set aside for public information sessions a few years ago. Although they did not ask for it, they would have received unsolicited feedback anyhow. At that time, BEAM sent a letter to Council with our concerns and background information. Many others in the community have also raised concerns over that past few years. So the decision by the current Council to consult with the community before going ahead – and committing $20million to the project – is very welcome.
In 2015, the budget papers indicated funding for “Stage 2” of the project which involves strategic planning for the acquisition of land and construction of the Levee. What was not clear was the total cost of the levee. It was at least $6 million in one report in 2009 (Preliminary Design Report 2009) but, in this report, the cost- benefit analysis only compared flood damage to property and infrastructure against the costs associated with construction of the levee. It omitted many of the environmental, social and financial costs as well as benefits of the levee – and it also omitted any mention of the costs and benefits of any alternatives to the levee.
We have several concerns about the Flood Levee, and these have become stronger during the development of the Seymour Structure Plan (including release of Whiteheads Creek flood maps) and meetings of the Seymour Revitalisation Working Group. Our specific concerns are:
1. Hydrology: The proposed levee will become a significant choke on the river during a major flood, and will increase and focus the force of a flood. What will be the impact upstream and downstream? With the current trajectory of the river, a flood is likely to remove the end of Robert Street and take out the private land and Hanna Street downstream. Yet this is where the levee will be sitting. And how far downstream – and upstream – will be affected by this increased velocity? One of the strategies for floodplains (24.01-2) in the Local Planning Policy Framework of the Mitchell Shire Plan states: Discourage raised earthworks that reduce natural flood storage, obstruct and/or redistribute flood flows, and increase flow velocities and levels.
2. Natural values: as well as being an intrinsic part of Seymour’s heritage, these trees and the remnants of riverine forest along New Crossing Place Park (including Lions and Apex Parks) have very high conservation values and are covered by environmental overlays in the Planning Scheme In particular, the big old Red Gums in New Crossing Place Park Old are an important resource for a wide diversity of wildlife including possums and gliders. Tthe gradual loss of the trees in the region is pushing many animals to the point of extinction. Construction of the levee will cause disturbance of the parks and bushlands. Several of the old Red Gums on the floodplain (particularly along Tierney Street) will be removed.
3. Heritage values: the proposed levee will have a major impact on the New Crossing Place and Old Town Historic Precinct listed as heritage sites in the Planning Scheme – including the backdrop provided by the big old Red Gums on the floodplain. . The levee will place a visual as well as physical barrier between the town and the river bank – it will be an eyesore.
The view from the Seymour Old Town Heritage Precinct including the Royal Hotel looking towards the river. The levee will be a wall across this view.
4. Economic issues: One of the visions for Seymour is for the town – and tourism and hospitality businesses in particular – to engage more with the river as a real drawcard for Seymour. It is a great asset and more and more people are using the river bank and the great walking trails through the natural and historical areas along New Crossing Place Park. For more tourism, we need to promote the river and the park, and have businesses turning to look at the river rather than Emily Street. The barrier caused by a levee will be a big setback to these ideas.
5. Whiteheads Creek: The proposed levee does not address one of the major threats to the town caused by the floods in Whiteheads Creek. Whiteheads Creek has a small steep catchment and – as shown in 1973 – heavy rain can cause serious flash flooding. Climate change modelling suggests that such local intense storms may become more likely. This has been exacerbated by the choking of Whitehead’s Creek at the railway and Oak Street bridges and embankments. These floods far more dangerous to lives than the Goulburn flood that arrive slowly enough for everyone to be warned and actions taken to protect people and assets. The levee will not resolve all the flood issues in Seymour. In fact, there is cause for concern that a Whiteheads Creek flood could get into the areas of town enclosed by the levee via subways and cause a much worse situation. These are very big concerns among people we have spoken to.
6. Flood warnings: The need for the levee is less than it was ten years ago. We recognise that a major flood will cause economic distress to many businesses in Seymour. But we also point out that we have had plenty of warnings over the past 180 years of European settlement.
7. Alternatives to the levee: Many business places and residences have heeded these warnings and built to minimise the impact of flooding to a few days of inconvenience caused by flooded roads. Many of the older buildings have been replaced by buildings on pads or stilts above flood level – including fast food outlets in Emily Street, Aldi, TAFE College, accountants offices – and possible the Seymour Club. Some newer businesses have built on stilts that allow shaded parking underneath – a good response in a hot climate and one that could be copied by the retailers in town. The lack of a levee is clearly not deterring businesses in Seymour.
8. Be prepared: People and businesses could be provided with information and support to be prepared physically, financially and emotionally for floods. In other words, prepare for floods as we prepare for fires. In particular, we through the Council should ensure that vulnerable people in the flood zone are assisted to prepare and withstand the impacts of the floods from the Goulburn River or Whiteheads Creek.
9. Cost of the levee: The cost of the levee is very high but the benefits of the levee will only affect a small section of the town. A Goulburn flood would be only a minor inconvenience to most people in Seymour. Other people in the flood zone are prepared to take the risk – or, as mentioned earlier, are already prepared to minimise the impact of a flood. Council is asking beneficiaries of the levy about payment through some form of levy, but there are many people and businesses in the flood zones that have already taken action and would not want to pay for the levee.
10. Catchment management: Whitehead’s Creek catchment has many steep hills and bare slopes that allow fast runoff of rainwater. And Whitehead’s Creek is an incised gully that encourages fast drainage rather than allowing water to spread across floodplains. There is a lot of work needed to rehabilitate the catchment to moderate flows and encourage seepage into the groundwater aquifers. This will have benefits for farmlands and bushlands. It will encourage wildlife habitat and provide a sink for carbon sink.
11. Other ways to spend $20 million? Floods are not frequent – it is a long time since the last flood came into the town in 1974 . Another flood is inevitable – we just don’t know when. But $20 million is a big investment for the Shire – plus the continuing cost of maintenance of all the barriers and pumps levee. That money could be better used for all the other projects that will make life better in Mitchell Shire – the Council and community have plenty of plans ready to go
So we call on the Council to reverse that decision made in 2010 – to abandon plans for the levee and look at the alternatives that will make Seymour flood-ready and a great place to live.
We would like your feedback on these points and any additional points you would like to make – please add them below.