FURIOUS locals want answers from Council after waking to discover a new sewerage treatment plant being built around their Forrest Beach homes – without any community consultation.
Angry and bemused homeowners say they now have an ‘eye-sore’ metres from their properties – and that values will decrease.
Further concerns are that the work will increase the risk of flooding and insurance premiums will go up.
Palm Street resident Bruce Leach – who is a former Shire engineer – says ‘Council has not followed due process and had they done so – the works would never have happened’.
Hinchinbrook Mayor Ramon Jayo has conceded he is ‘mystified’, adding ‘they should have been consulted’.
With works near completion, landowners were left dumbfounded by the silence of local Council’s plans, with people finding out by confronting onsite contractors.
Retired couple Trevor and Roslyn Cerutti woke to an excavator digging out the back of their Palm Street property – and news that a treatment site was being constructed just metres from their backyard.
She added: ‘These mounds are constructed in a flood way.
‘And not only that, the houses on Acacia Street who have beachfront views now have this in their front yard.
‘No one even gave those people a voice.’
Forrest Beach residents are outraged at the lack of consultation and transparency over the new treatment plant for the local RV park, which impacts properties on Palm and Acacia streets.
Mrs Cerutti continued: ‘These mounds have been constructed without due process and community consultation.
‘There has never been any public consultation whatsoever, of any sort.
‘Somewhere along the line it has changed from what they first put out to the public to what they have put here.’
When Mrs Cerutti consulted other homeowners in the neighbourhood, she said no one knew anything about it.
Initially, the public was made aware of plans to construct a sewerage treatment plant comprising underground treatment tanks, sited near the new amenities block at the current free camp RV Tourist Park, which presently allows self-contained RVs to stay a maximum of two nights due to the unavailability of an adequate sewage disposal facility.
But residents were not made aware of plans for the disposal of effluent from the tanks to a tertiary treatment site of large sand (Wisconsin) mounds that sit above ground in the neighbouring Recreation Reserve flood way, adjacent to Acacia and Palm Street properties.
Like the Ceruttis, Bruce Leach found out about the Wisconsin mounds when an excavator started work last Monday.
He said: ‘I and other residents who fronted the contractor that morning were very surprised.
‘Obviously, we were dismayed that this should be how we find out about the project.
‘We were also in disbelief that the whole thing was to be located in what we all knew was a pretty big drainage path and is also permanently wet in the wet season’.
Mr Leach said there had been ‘zero consultation’ on the Wisconsin mounds.
He added: ‘A lot of people want to see the Recreation Reserve remain as is, so are concerned that the treatment works and especially the Wisconsin mounds should just suddenly appear without any prior consultation.
‘Our view is quite simply that Council has not followed due process and had they done so, then the works would never have happened in their current form.
‘I feel very sorry for the residents adjacent the Wisconsin mounds as I believe these structures have a major impact on them and their properties.
‘There is a very likely chance that adverse impacts will result from blocking the drainage line.
‘We are concerned how the Wisconsin mounds will perform when they are partially submerged in the wet season.
‘The issue is when embarking on projects such as this, and obviously that locating sewerage treatment plants is a very sensitive issue, it is necessary that the responsible authority goes through a very thorough and transparent process, and fully consider all of its responsibilities, before arriving at an end point.’
Affected homeowners held a site meeting at Forrest Beach on Thursday with councillors, council staff and community members to address concerns and seek an explanation for the works.
But it was all too little too late, as Council representatives suggested that options to remedy the situation were limited due to the project being near completion.
The now separate sewerage treatment plant on the Recreation Reserve is a separate matter for residents and generates a number of additional concerns and questions over the Council’s future intentions for the tourist park, with many people puzzled by the notion of big dollars going to upgrade a free camp that is going to remain a free camp.
Mr Leach said: ‘Although it is a personal thing, most of us and other people we have spoken to consider that once the ablution block starts up the site essentially becomes an un-powered caravan park, and then it is competing against other caravan parks in the district.
‘It is thought that Council should not be doing this on a subsidised basis – that its fees should be akin to normal commercial charges.’
Speaking on behalf of the neighbouring homeowners, Mr Leach said: ‘Initially we all thought Council was to install a small package treatment plant in the existing Caravan Park Reserve and at its 31 August general meeting Council considered and approved a Development Application (MCU) for exactly that.
‘Then on the following Thursday at the site meeting we were informed that there are in fact two separate entities; the tourist park DA, which also includes the new ablutions and a dump point, and a separate sewerage treatment plant on the adjacent Recreation Reserve.’
He said: ‘Our group don’t support the Recreation Reserve being used for such purposes, and of course its probably the case that anyone living adjacent to an unspoilt public open space would think the same, especially in regard to siting sewerage treatment facilities.
‘That’s exactly the reason why any authority who wants to commandeer Recreation Reserve for other purposes should follow due process.
‘We strongly believe that hasn’t been done in this instance.’
The Mayor of Hinchinbrook, Ramon Jayo said he was ‘mystified’ by how the process has transpired.
He added: ‘I don’t know why, but because of the tooing and frooing with the plans it sort of got missed in the system, which is shocking.
‘Whilst there was consultation with the community at large back in 2020 when it started with the initial plans, once the plans all changed the most important thing was that we didn’t go and actually talk to the neighbours and I accept that and I acknowledge that.
‘There’s no use casting blame under our system, the responsibility stops with me.’
Mayor Jayo said he received phone calls from neighbours last Tuesday and it became evident to him that no one had approached them about the plans.
‘We organised a meeting with all the neighbours and we said “sorry it’s not how we normally do business”.’
Council’s plans to reactivate the former caravan park site has been a project that has been in the pipeline for some time.
Mayor Jayo said the intention of the plan was to create a catalyst for Forrest Beach to kick-start the economy and create a caravan park that would entice visitation.
‘As we have seen in other areas, including our other beaches, once visitation comes some people tend to like what they see, and they actually invest.’
To re-establish the caravan park would mean opening it up to a wider market and demographic not only for the self contained, and options for a relevant sewerage treatment plant to support that.
Mayor Jayo said: ‘A long time ago we did look at the prospects of taking sewage to Ingham but the cost figures came back and it was going to add thousands of dollars onto sewerage charges to each individual allotment.
‘It was just not feasible or practical from a financial aspect point of view to take the sewage back to Ingham, and the Department of Environment and Science wouldn’t consider a treatment facility for the entire of Forrest Beach.’
According to Mayor Jayo, initial plans also looked at a potential disposal of waste by utilising the water in the form of irrigation along the foreshore but the Department of Environment and Science disapproved the proposal.
‘There was a lot of back and forth going on to determine a suitable area for the disposal area of the treatment facility.
‘We have to be clear that this is not a normal sewage treatment plant, not a normal septic system going in.
‘This is sewerage treatment plant is a top of the range biological treatment system which goes through and creates what is called ‘class A water’ – essentially they say you can drink it.
‘The treatment plant that is proposed for the site is actually authorised by, approved by and licensed to the Department of Environment and Science, which means they’ve looked at it, they approved the process, they approved the site.
Mayor Jayo admitted that ‘The initial plan was not for the system to go that far down into that drainage system area, that’s where it’s all been lost in the transaction.’
Mayor Jayo reassured affected residents that the system would not be turned on until all concerns were addressed.
He said: ‘Whilst the work is essentially completed I’m not in the mind of turning on the toilet systems until we resolve these issues, go back and talk to the community and see where we go from there.
‘We are going to get all the information, all the legalities and everything so we can endeavour to address their concerns.
‘They are valid concerns and I’ve taken those concerns on and instructed the CEO to go and get specific answers from the staff or however they need to, a hydrologist if necessary so we can go back and address it with the landowners.
‘We just need to go back and essentially do what we should have done and talk to them beforehand.
‘My aim at the moment is to get all the information and to address all the concerns that have been raised by the residents.
‘They should’ve been consulted.’
Residents will now have to deal with the potential consequences of the Council’s actions and hope the situation is resolved in time for the upcoming wet season.
Mrs Cerutti said: ‘It’s a no-win situation.
‘Even if they are made to take it away, I’m not going to feel very good about it no matter what happens, because that is a criminal waste of money.
‘If that stays there, it’s an eye sore and it’s in our backyard.
‘It’s bad enough for us that we walk out the back with the prospect of being inundated with flood water.’
Mr Cerutti’s grandfather purchased the Palm Street property back in 1955 and Mr Cerutti and his family have been holidaying at Forrest Beach since he can remember.
Their deep generational connection to Forrest Beach is like that of many in the area which make the total disregard for the community voice harder to take.
Mr Cerutti said: ‘We are arguing the decision to put it here [Recreation Reserve] without consultation, without notification.
‘There wasn’t even a noticed put up on the block to say that it is a proposed change of use of land.
Residents have stated, that the sand mounds be removed before the upcoming wet season and any alternative works or long term plans for the tourist park and adjacent recreation reserve be clearly set out by Council.