The Mt Victoria community has joined calls from the mayor and others to keep Phil Koperberg and the bushfire recovery committee going until the end of March.
President of the Mt Victoria Community Association, Debra Smith, said fire-affected residents and businesses would feel “left in the lurch” if Mr Koperberg finished up at the end of this month.
“Even in good times people have difficulty dealing with the bureaucracy of insurance, utilities, council building regulations and the normal problems of building a new home,” she said.
“Add the grief and trauma of losing all your possessions and surviving a dangerous bushfire. Many people are still really struggling to cope.
“Both Roza Sage and Louise Markus must act to ensure both the State and Federal Governments provide the right support for our community during this difficult process; that means keeping Phil Koperberg and his team on the ground until the end of March,”
The mayor, Mark Greenhill, said there was still much work to be done by the recovery committee.
“Finishing that involvement in coming weeks would have a disastrous effect on the recovery effort. Other state governments, in other natural disasters, have stayed engaged with the communities in question. The NSW Government should do likewise,” he said.
Ward 1 councillor, Don McGregor, echoed the mayor’s remarks. “We remain hopeful that the recovery committee and Phil Koperberg will remain in place until all the work is completed,” he said.
Mr Koperberg said his finishing date was “entirely a matter for the minister” and he would not be drawn into the politics of the decision.
At the same time, he said he would like at least another month because “sadly, there are jobs that I haven’t yet finished”.
He also wanted to ensure that any handover to council was smooth and guaranteed continuity.
“It should be literally a one-day changeover — I finish on the Friday, they take over on the Monday.”
But there was still a lot of negotiating to be done before such a changeover could happen, he said.
The Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Mike Gallacher, would not commit to extending Mr Koperberg’s term. A spokesman told the Gazette that “discussions are ongoing with the council to work out the best way forward”.
He added: “We’re going quite well with the recovery. We are ahead of schedule.”
Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage said 181 properties had now been cleared.
“The remaining properties are being cleared independently by residents or by insurers outside of government contracts,” she said. “The pace at which the clean-up has occurred will come as a huge relief to residents.”
But in Mt Victoria, only three of the nine burnt houses appear to have been cleared.
Clr McGregor expressed concern at the dangers posed by uncleared sites. At least one house in the badly affected St George’s Parade was leaning badly and looked as if it could fall down at any minute, he said.
“It’s structurally in a very unsafe condition. If kids got inside who knows what could happen. It hasn’t even got a barrier around it,” he said, pointing to the broken emergency services tape lying on the ground.
Clr McGregor said while the damage in Mt Victoria was dwarfed by that in Winmalee and Yellow Rock, “the damage to the community is just as forceful”.
Ms Sage said the number of properties now cleared vindicated the State Government’s decision to involve insurance companies in the work to ensure they met their obligations to policy holders.
“The speed with which these properties have been cleared shows this approach was effective,” she said.
“The Tasmanian bushfire clean-up has often been cited as a model that should have been followed in the Blue Mountains yet it took five months for clearance work to be completed there. As I have repeatedly said, there will certainly be lessons learned from the response to this disaster but it is very heartening to see this progress has been made.”
Mrs Sage last week met with John Lee and Eleanor Herriott, owners of Mount Irvine heritage-listed property Carisbrook, which was completely destroyed in the bushfires.
Mr Lee said the clearing of his property was handled effectively by their insurer.
“The NRMA were very efficient and handled it perfectly,” he said. “The clean-up and removal of debris through the government funding package was handled expeditiously and to our total satisfaction.
“They came in and surveyed the area that needed to be cleaned up and within a week-and-a-half they were there, and in three days took away approximately 12 high-side construction trucks of debris.”