Action at last on Blue Mountains bushfire clean-up

There is a spring in the step of Bushfire Recovery boss Phil Koperberg at last.

After weeks of wrangling with officialdom to get the bushfire clean-up going, on Monday Mr Koperberg finally sounded positive.

“Everything is going splendidly,” he told the Gazette. “Tomorrow [Tuesday] there will be a massive change. Minister for Finance and Service Andrew Constance has taken over as the minister responsible. Everything is going to be included [in the clean-up].”

Mr Constance also issued a statement, reiterating Mr Koperberg’s remarks.

“The NSW Government made a commitment to remove all debris from homes destroyed by the Blue Mountains bushfires, and that’s what we’re getting on with doing.

“I want to make clear that we will fund the removal of concrete slabs for all affected properties, unless owners in consultation with their insurer and builder decide to keep what they currently have.”

It has been nearly seven weeks since the fires and both Mr Koperberg and Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill had fielded dozens of calls from frustrated and, lately, furious residents still waiting for the clean-up that will enable them to move on from the disaster.

There were also concerns that some people would receive different treatment, depending on their insurer.

But Mr Koperberg assured the Gazette that “there will be complete equity across the board. It’s all inclusive and everyone will be treated equally. I am absolutely delighted that Minister Constance has acted quickly to stem the tide of discontent.”

He was “absolutely positive’’ that work will start in the coming days, he said.

Clr Greenhill said he welcomed Mr Constance’s involvement “and I’m hoping that this will lead to a process close to that which we saw in Victoria’’.

But he also issued a warning. “If my expectations are disappointed, then I will resume my public campaign on behalf of the public of the Blue Mountains because, at the end of the day, I just want them to be able to get on with their lives.”

An NRMA Insurance spokeswoman said the company had started on the clean-up last weekend in conjunction with the NSW Government. Preparation work, including disconnection of sewerage, water and electricity services and installation of security fencing would ensure sites were safe to excavate and safe for demolition to start.

The spokeswoman also said that NRMA would work with the government to clean up for those who did not have insurance.

NRMA has 67 policy-holders who lost their homes. Suncorp – which includes AAMI, GIO and Apia – is also starting the clean-up for its 61 policy-holders who suffered total losses.

The company’s senior corporate affairs advisor, David Skapinker, said Suncorp customers were not eligible for government funding because of its comprehensive policies.

The other major insurer, Allianz, who has 20 affected policy-holders, said it had been negotiating with the State Government.

“During these discussions, Allianz’s primary objective has been to promote and protect the interests of our policy-holders and we remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement in the near future to participate in the Government clean-up funding scheme,” said its general manager of corporate affairs, Nicholas Scofield.

Blue Mountains City Council will hold an extraordinary meeting about the bushfire clean-up tomorrow [December 5] at Winmalee High School at 7pm.

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