1770 residents from the Seventeen Seventy Sewerage Action Group (SSSAG) were celebrating on Tuesday after a decision was passed at council chambers for Gladstone Regional Council (GRC) to own and operate the historically-flawed sewerage system.
The 1770 Low-Pressure Sewerage System (LPSS), which is on a different network to Agnes Water, connects properties along Round Hill Creek and includes Air Sea Rescue Park and Captain Cook Caravan Park.
1770 Resident Bill Comiskey, who is a part of SSSAG, said the system, which was installed over 17 years ago by former Miriam Vale Shire Council (MVSC), has led to ‘nothing but problems,’ with many elderly residents’ needing to evacuate their homes due to overflowing septic tanks.
When GRC formed in 2008, it was assumed it would continue the agreement MVSC had in place but instead GRC issued responsibility for maintenance and operation of the plumbing system to remain with property owners.
Council made the decision in 2008 to construct the Seventeen Seventy LPSS to service the township and headland with a LPSS over gravity sewerage system due to both whole of life cost and environmental concerns associated with the installation and construction of such a system in the constrained footprint.
Council retained ownership and operation and maintenance responsibility for the trunk infrastructure and downstream treatment plant and disposal system.
Following a deputation from the Seventeen Seventy Sewerage Action Group (SSSAG) earlier in the year Councillors requested General Manager Assets and Environment to undertake a comprehensive review into the LPSS, and specifically the division of responsibility for ownership and maintenance of on-premise components.
Council has been responsible for the scheduled installation and warranty period for the new low-pressure units. The customer is responsible after one year for the repair/ replacement of equipment as required.
Due to poor maintenance and condition monitoring Council reported there is a risk of critical asset failure leading to increased emergent and maintenance costs.
To date, Council has 78 connections with a further 20 properties not yet installed.
In response to feedback from property owners in Seventeen Seventy regarding the cost and reliability of the on-site pumping systems, Council officers revisited several options to address the community concerns in 2017 and 2018, with Council at the time resolving to reaffirm the 2008 decision.
That decision led to a formal declaration in the Supreme Court of Queensland in September 2022 affirming the position regarding property owners taking all reasonable steps to maintain plumbing and drainage infrastructure on their premises to ensure proper operations.
During the debate on Tuesday Cr Glenn Churchill said it is well known that the 1770 Low-Pressure Sewerage Scheme installation was flawed.
“The council needs to do the right thing in this particular situation,” Cr Churchill said.
“My question is, from my reading how many agreements did we execute as a result in good governance?”
General Manager Assets and Environment Mark Mark Francis replied that there hasn’t been any formal agreements entered into.
“There is not any formal agreements in place – that is one of the actions we will undertake irrespective of councils decision today, and to make sure we have the appropriate education in place for property owners,” he responded.
Mr Francis confirmed that 20 pumps have been replace over a 10 year period.
Mayor, Matt Burnett said this has been going on for a very long time and was in two minds about the issue.
“But I want to resolve this for the residents sake, as I have been there and seen on site that I don’t think its fair that that (residents) have to go in the middle of the night and potentially put hands into sewerage to turn thing on and off,” he said.
“We have qualified plumbers and contractors in the area that can do that.”
Cr Rick Hansen said council has seen many instances of multiple pump and/or controller failures over the years.
“And I think we are putting the community at risk in not owning this system as we do with every other sewerage asset we have in the community,” Cr Hansen said.
Currently new installations are budgeted for, as well as one replacement, but the operational expenditure, not currently budgeted for, could be between $36,000 to $53,000 for council to own and operate.
This equates to approximately $391 per service, which could be charged through fees and charges, a set fee, a cost recovery fee, or potentially a user-pay system, or the possibility of separating the one scheme into two schemes – an Agnes Water scheme and a 1770 scheme.
Cr Kahn Goodluck suggested having discussions with those residents affected regarding new charges, moving forward.
During his celebrations, Bill Comiskey remarked that it been a long seven-year battle, but in the end Council made a morally right decision for the residents.