Residents protesting the commercialisation of Katoomba Airfield made their voices heard loud and clear at the August 27 Blue Mountains council meeting.
With their signs, they filled the public gallery spilling out into the foyer. They were there to listen to debate on the future of the airfield, with a council report prepared for the meeting recommending council reinforce its long-standing position that the site be incorporated into the national park and maintained as an emergency airfield only.
This position was supported by the majority of councillors, with the exception of Don McGregor who abstained from voting, Kevin Schreiber who had left the meeting to attend to other business, Shae Foenander was absent, and Daniel Myles who voted against.
"I don't see that this [airfield] will remain open for use for fire-fighting," Cr Myles said. "Without someone onsite, it may not be in a condition to use it."
Ward 2 councillor Brent Hoare, a member of the RFS disagreed.
"The operational needs of firefighters are rudimentary. People are plucked out of river valleys metres from trees. All we need to operate helicopters is a bit of cleared land and somewhere to put up tents," he said.
"The operational needs of the RFS can easily be met without an operator."
Cr Kerry Brown, who had pushed at the May council meeting for council to become actively involved in the process and put in a submission on the airfield plans, reinforced the impacts on the area if the commercialisation was allowed to proceed.
"The peace and quiet argument goes without saying," she said.
"It really will damage our tourism. A lot of businesses feel they will suffer from this."
"We have to have some confidence that if we are opposing this it does put some pressure on the department and minister in signing off on this."
Other councillors pointed out the proposed activities were not in keeping with the Local Environment Plan (LEP) which also seeks to protect the Mountains from over-development.
"We are not the big city next door, we are not Sydney, we are not Penrith, we are a world heritage area," said mayor Mark Greenhill.
"It is our job to defend the quality of life of our residents and defend our LEP, or we will lose the thin line of defence."
Cr Romola Hollywood talked about taking a helicopter flight when holidaying in Hawaii. "As fun as it is to go in a helicopter, the impact is significant," she said. "The layout of our Blue Mountains ... a fleet of helicopters would destroy out national park."
Medlow Bath resident Greg Thompson told the meeting the proposal must be stopped now.
"Our national park, our world heritage national park is under threat yet again. It's such a unique environment and it's that way because we don't have a constant buzzing of helicopters," he said. "Once they're in, the creep factor will be enormous. We have to stop it now."
Derek and Floyd Larsen were granted an interim licence over the airfield last year. Their proposal is for a 50-year lease, with plans to operate a commercial airfield, sealing one of the runways to allow recreational, fixed-wing aircraft to use it. The Larsens' current licence, which includes access for emergency services, will remain in place until the department makes its decision.
More than 1500 submissions were made over the future of Katoomba Airfield. The department will now consider the submissions and publish a findings report which will guide the department on next steps prior to making a decision on whether to enter into negotiations with the proponent for a lease. The process is expected to take at least two months.
The issue was also debated in NSW Parliament on August 1, after residents gathered more than 12,000 signatures on a petition opposing the plans for the airfield.
- with Jennie Curtin