The sombre warning from Bega council: 'Things are never going to be the same'

A picture taken by Zoe Irvin on Polacks Flat Road during the bushfire crisis this year.
A picture taken by Zoe Irvin on Polacks Flat Road during the bushfire crisis this year.

The Bega Valley is one of the two most-damaged regions from the state's recent bushfire emergency.

Bega Valley Shire Council's general manager Leanne Barnes made the comment at council's first recovery meeting, held in Bemboka on Tuesday night to provide the community information on recovery efforts.

She said the community was still recovering from the fires that hit Tathra's district in 2018 and the recovery for the more recent fires was "unlike anything that's been seen" in Australia.

"We are one of 34 councils in NSW that have been impacted, but we're one of the two most-impacted council's in NSW," she said.

"Things are never going to be what they were before this happened to us, and this is going to be a long haul."

Ms Barnes said the NSW government had put in place an exempt and complying development approval so there was no need for residents to get a development application to start cleaning up fire-damaged properties.

"That's all waived, there's no cost with that," she said.

She said the government had also waived a number of its planning fees in relation to development applications, which it had not done in 2018.

 Power infrastructure was damaged in the Eurobodalla Shire in the January bushfires, including this system at Surf Beach.

Power infrastructure was damaged in the Eurobodalla Shire in the January bushfires, including this system at Surf Beach.

The state government had waived rates for buildings that were destroyed for six months from January 6 to June 30, but the process of what to do if residents had already paid was still being worked out, she said.

She said council had waived a number of fees and charges such as water, sewer, planning fees for rebuilding, some waste charges, as well as the entry fee into pools for people who had lost their homes so they could have showers.

Council was also looking at allowing temporary accommodation on properties for up to two years so people could live on their properties while the rebuilding took place, she said.

Ms Barnes did not have an exact date on when the state government clean up would start, but said council would keep the community posted.

"The first statements by the government was that it was going to be 90 per cent of the clean up done within six months," she said.

Director of community, environment and planning Dr Alice Howe said the head contractor for the clean-up was in the process of employing local contractors who would be getting in touch with residents, starting with people that had experienced the fires early.

She said if residents had questions about if the calls were legitimate to not give their credit card details as there was no payment involved and to call council's recovery centre on 6499 2345.

Dr Howe said if residents did not want to wait for the state government's clean-up process they had to pay for it themselves as the government had not waived any waste charges, aside from the ones associated with its own clean-up process.

But she said residents could also apply through their insurer to cover some of those costs.

Chris Best from council's assets and operations division said the Bemboka transfer station was damaged in the fire and testing had found asbestos at the site which had to be cleaned up, but it was hoped the tip would be open in three to four weeks.

He also said the Bemboka community still needed to boil its water as the water treatment plant had experienced issues from ash and sediment that was washed into it, but the boil water notice might be lifted by this coming weekend.

An audience member asked what the fire risk around Bemboka was, with NSW Rural Fire Service Superintendent John Cullen saying the region had done "pretty well" with the fires on Brown Mountain through to Cattlemans and Postmans Tracks thanks to the rain.

But he said there was still a fair bit of unburnt country in that area and the RFS did not want fire back there because it could come through to Bemboka.

"That country in there is very difficult to burn," he said.

"If we happen to continue with this rain you won't be able to light it up.

"If conditions continue the way they are at the moment and we don't get any more rain, yes it will burn.

"But it won't burn with the ferocity that the other fires burnt with the drought conditions and the weather conditions all in this one cocktail."

This story The sombre warning: 'Things are never going to be the same' first appeared on Bega District News.