26 January, 2024
Council requests for cyclone shelter, refuges rejected
NUMEROUS requests from Mareeba Shire Council for funding from the State to provide an official shelter or place of refuge for those who don’t have anywhere to go in a cyclone or extreme flooding have been rejected.
The shire has only one designated place of refuge in the entire area, being Koah Community Hall, which became evident in December’s weather event when council was forced to house 14 people in local motels.
Criticism was also levelled at the council during the torrential rainfall that followed Cyclone Jasper for not opening an evacuation centre, instead working with a local church that opened its doors to those who needed a place to go.
But council has explained the complexities in opening such a centre, with a requirement to have two police officers on site at all times, and that staff trained to man the centre were unable to reach the designated evacuation building because they were blocked by floodwaters.
Mayor Angela Toppin says successive councils had applied for funding several times over the years to provide “a place of refuge or place of last resort” for those who find themselves without a safe place to be during a cyclonic event.
“Council did receive funding to investigate if there are buildings in our shire that can be used as a ‘Place of Refuge/Last Resort’ and made use of this funding to identify buildings that could be renovated and upgraded in line with the appropriate building approvals to make them safe during a cyclone,” she said.
“While there were some buildings identified as suitable for hardening, unfortunately the State Government rejected council’s request for funding as these were non-government owned buildings.
“The only council-owned building at that time was the Koah Hall which was upgraded in line with the appropriate building standards.”
Mayor Toppin said once the Cedric Davis Hub was acquired by council, a further application was lodged to harden it so it could be used as a “Place of Refuge/Last Resort”.
“To harden it to be used as a ‘Place of Refuge/Last Resort’ the building would require upgrades to the value of $1.2 million,” she said.
Despite council offering to pay for half the cost, its application to the State Government was unsuccessful.
“Council has just spent its share of the upgrade, approximately, $600,000, to upgrade the roof which now meets the building specifications and council will continue to advocate for funding for the remainder of the upgrades required,” Mayor Toppin explained.
She said while council acknowledged that the need for cyclone shelters or places of refuge was greater for the communities on the coast, there was clearly a need for a place where locals could go as a last resort that would keep them safe during an event.
“The first course of action for most people whose places of residents are not able to withstand a cyclone is to go to family or friends when they require a place of refuge leading up to and before the cyclone and floods,” Mayor Toppin said.
“If residents do not have a safe place to go, council assists with finding a place of last resort. Council has a list of accommodation options that are available across the shire if there is a need for accommodation before, during and after an event. This list includes hotels and motels.
“Following Cyclone Jasper, and the subsequent flooding event, a large number of people required crisis accommodation, the majority of whom were able to stay with family, friends or neighbours.
“Unfortunately, there were 14 residents who had to turn to council to provide crisis accommodation.
“Council would like funding from the State Government to harden both council-owned and privately-owned buildings for the use as cyclone shelters or places of refuge during an emergency.”
Member for Cook Cynthia Lui admitted that previous applications by the shire for funding to harden buildings had not been successful.
She said the next round of the Commonwealth’s Disaster Ready Fund would open later this month which provided up to $200 million nationally for disaster mitigation and resilience projects.
“I am happy to support the council in any applications they may make for this important community infrastructure,” Ms Lui said.
Shadow Minister for Local Government and Disaster Recovery Ann Leahy said if the LNP was successful at this year’s election, they were prepared to tackle the issue.
“When the LNP was last in government and our current Leader David Crisafulli was the Community Recovery and Resilience Minister, we spent tens of millions of dollars to improve the resilience of our State,” she said.
“Unfortunately, this hasn’t been a priority for Labor, who have stopped listening to the concerns of Mareeba residents.
“Addressing issues like this will continue to be a priority for the LNP.”
“If given the opportunity to govern, the LNP would work in partnership with the local council to ensure communities have the facilities they need to deal with and recover from natural disasters.”