Letters to the editor: Talking it through is key to getting all onboard

RE THE planned increase in pilot training operations by the AIAC at Kempsey Airport. In a recent Letter to Editor (Argus, 28/3/2107), I suggested council undertake an open and transparent community consultation process to resolve issues of community concern.

Perhaps an example of good community consultation might come in handy.

I am a retired NSW State Public Servant of 40 years, having worked for the Sydney Water Board and Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA).

In the late 1990s it became apparent that an ‘auxiliary spillway’ needed to be built around Warragamba Dam. This was a $125 million project. It required excavating over three million cubic metres of sandstone from the eastern side of the dam. The excavations would involve blasting and heavy machinery operating for a couple of years with dust, noise, vibration and traffic implications to name a few.

All this was to occur right on the doorstep of Warragamba township with some residences being only 200 metres from the works.

Even a public service ‘Blind Freddy’ could see that this was going to impact the Warragamba community. Townsfolk needed information and genuine ‘buy in’ to decision making.

Some 18 months before any form of approval was sought or a shovel hit the ground, the Water Board embarked on an open, extensive community consultation process. Displays were erected at the local school, open days held, spin doctors were present to explain the need, scope and nature of the project, construction engineers, noise, dust monitoring and explosives experts were on hand to explain the likely impacts townsfolk might experience and how these would be mitigated - all in plain English.

This two-way process allowed people to ask as many questions as they needed – nothing hidden, nothing glossed over. Mitigation methods were amended in response to community suggestions.

The water board worked with the community to establish noise and dust monitoring stations. It established an independently chaired community engagement panel to manage concerns that inevitably arose. A shop front was established in the township with staff to take complaints and deal with concerns in a process designed with community input.

Sure, there were issues along the way but solid pre-construction community consultation developed a good level of trust. And yes, Warragamba township benefited too.

Improved road infrastructure, a public viewing platform which took visitors through the business area and refurbished picnic grounds and public facilities at the dam including a new Visitor Centre which brought a new generation of visitors to Warragamba.

Certainly, this example is on a significantly larger scale than the pilot training operations at Kempsey Airport but the need for good community consultation is common to both. It can be done.

Dick Pearson, Yarravel

Nail on the head

I WOULD like to congratulate Kempsey's TankFM on their wonderful speech ‘What Kempsey needs to get out of the village syndrome’. It was all of the talk at the campdraft at Gladstone. Everyone agreed with him, including me. Keep up the good work, Tank, as someone needs to speak out and get Kemspey moving.

Hector Lebrocq, Dondingalong

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