Koperberg extension fails to quell bushfire recovery concerns

Phil Koperberg’s term as co-ordinator of the state-led Blue Mountains bushfire recovery was extended by the O’Farrell government by two weeks on January 30, but the decision fell well short of councillors’ expectations. 

Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill told the Gazette on Friday “this extension is better than nothing but it is not long enough”.

“It is hard to imagine we [council] will be able to secure funding and effect a full transition plan in that short period,” Clr Greenhill said.

At the council meeting held two days before the decision, councillors were armed with advice from  council’s general manager that a minimum of four working weeks was required — subject to council’s application for a $1.75 million natural disaster relief grant being successful — to enable a smooth transition to a council-led recovery program aimed at serving bushfire affected residents for the next 12 to 18 months.

Councillors unanimously backed a plan for the council-led recovery based on models used by councils affected by the Victorian bushfire disasters. They elected Ward 3 Clr Mick Fell to chair a reference group with Ward 1 Clr Don McGregor chosen as deputy chair.

The plan is for council to work with the Ministry of Police and Emergency Services (MPES), appoint a local recovery manager, employ at least four extra full-time staff, establish a steering group including the general manager, mayor and deputy mayor and set up relevant working groups.

Clr Fell praised the general manager’s plan and said “I endorse it, but at the same time I’m deeply regretting that the state government is not taking a greater role in the process”.

“We are planning to some extent in a bit of a vacuum and in a situation which is far from being of our making.”

Deputy mayor Brendan Luchetti said “the recovery process is far from complete and I am of the view that the state government is making rather a hasty exit”.

NSW Police and Emergency Services Minister Mike Gallacher said Mr Koperberg was appointed on October 18 with a specific brief to chair the recovery committee and support the effective roll out of the Commonwealth and NSW Governments’ recovery packages.

“Both these tasks have now reached important milestones and through Phil’s commitment and efforts we are now ready to move into the next phase for the Blue Mountains.”

Mr Gallacher has appointed Feargus O’Connor, an executive director at MPES, to support the council in the recovery process.

Asked on Friday by the Gazette if he believed council will receive adequate funding to implement the next recovery phase, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said “absolutely, I’m confident that the council will be well-equipped”.

Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage said the Bushfire Information and Support Centre remains open at the ex-Legacy Building at 7/5 Raymond Lane, Springwood and can be contacted on 4751-6423.