Mayor moots Katherine River dam for mitigation, criticises shortfall in TIO ‘sweetener’

THE feasibility of damming the Katherine River to protect the town against flooding has been mooted as Katherine prepares to see what mitigation options the Northern Territory government will offer up in the wake of the sale of TIO.

The insurer was sold in a deal worth $424m on November 24, with the government promising that the funds would only be used for long-term infrastructure development and flood mitigation projects.

As part of the sale, $25m has been earmarked for flood mitigation in Katherine but the amount has been slammed as a “massive, massive” shortfall by the town’s mayor.

Chief Minister Adam Giles told the Katherine Times last week that the $25m was not a final figure and pledged to spend what was needed to safeguard the town from future flood events.

“If it costs a little bit less or a little bit more, we’ll do that,” he said.

The funding for Katherine represents about 6 per cent of the total amount garnered from the sale of the insurer.

However, Katherine Town Council mayor Fay Miller said she believed $25m - which includes about $8m to relocate the St John Ambulance NT facility out of a flood zone - was not enough.

“$17.5 million is certainly not going to go very far when you consider the amount of mitigation that would have to be done to make a difference to Katherine,” she said.

“Who’s going to miss out?

“You can’t possibly mitigate against the whole of Katherine, or some parts of Katherine and not others.

“I couldn’t see it being done for under $50m.”

Alderman Miller also slammed the government for a lack of consultation with the council prior to the funding announcement, adding that she believed damming the Katherine River needed to be considered as a mitigation option.

“There’s been no discussion with Katherine Town Council as to what type of mitigation they’re going to implement and what they have in mind,” she said.

“Dare I mention this word, dam?

“There’s only one place it could go, and that’s at the very top of the gorges.

“I know people don’t want to talk about it but the discussion has to be had if we’re discussing mitigation.”

The Katherine mayor said she had no doubt an element of the funding announcement was politically motivated.

“Definitely, it’s there as a sweetener, there’s no two ways about that,” she said.

MESSAGE IGNORED: Despite strong community objection, TIO was sold for $424 million on Monday, sparking concerns about will happen to premium prices in flood-prone towns like Katherine.

MESSAGE IGNORED: Despite strong community objection, TIO was sold for $424 million on Monday, sparking concerns about will happen to premium prices in flood-prone towns like Katherine.

“I would say even double what they’re talking about is still not going to cut the mustard [to provide adequate mitigation].

Member for Katherine Willem Westra van Holthe supported the sale of TIO during a cabinet meeting to decide the insurer’s fate this week and said the $25m was “not in any way, shape or form a sweetener” to boost public support in Katherine for the sell-off.

Mr Westra van Holthe admitted the government did not have a mitigation strategy in mind before it offered the funding.

“I guess the point to make is, until we form a committee and sit down and work through what flood mitigation looks like for Katherine, we don’t know exactly what form it’s going to take,” he said.

While federal Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon weighed in on the sale debate on Tuesday by blasting it as “an act of complete bastardry”, Mr Westra van Holthe said believed offloading the insurer had been the right thing to do.

“I’m convinced this is in the best interest of Territorians to do this,” he said.

“You can be assured … that I will fight for every dollar that I can out of the infrastructure fund to improve outcomes for flood mitigation in Katherine.”

A flood study undertaken by the government in 1992 concluded that levees were “the only practicable flood modification measure” for Katherine.

Katherine Town Council mayor Fay Miller says the $25m offered by the Giles government for flood mitigation as part of the TIO sale is a "massive, massive" shortfall.

Katherine Town Council mayor Fay Miller says the $25m offered by the Giles government for flood mitigation as part of the TIO sale is a "massive, massive" shortfall.

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