By Margaret Maccoll
Noosa councillors are divided in their willingness to continue funding payments of the Noosa Oyster Restoration Project until the long-awaited approval from state government has been obtained.
At its General Meeting on Monday, councillors debated the acceptance of a project report that marked a milestone in the payment process.
Council entered into an Alliance and Funding Agreement with conservation organisation The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2019, establishing a strategic partnership for the primary purpose of undertaking oyster ecosystem restoration in the Noosa River over three years.
The Alliance and Funding Agreement provides for a series of deliverables and measurable outcomes to be achieved, the report being one of those key milestones.
The agreement has four payment milestones for Noosa Council’s contribution of $1.2 million toward the total $3.6 million project.
Having paid its initial instalment of almost $180,000, a second payment of $200,000 is due from council upon demonstrated achievement of measurable outcomes which include the state government permits for oyster reef installation, which have not yet been obtained.
Council heard the reef installation required a development application that was referred to various state government departments for approval.
Questions were raised about the siting of reef infrastructure in Noosa River, the extent of community consultation and the predicted success of growing oysters in the warm Noosa waters with previous oyster reef projects gaining success in colder waters.
TNC spokesmen said the project’s advisory reference group had helped draft the plan and the organisation had met with state government agencies and responded to feedback provided to them on the project.
They said they were confident oysters would survive in the river when provided appropriate structures to grow on as they were already in existence and Noosa oysters would be assisted by oysters currently being seeded at Bribie Island to be transferred to Noosa.
Oyster reef sites had been identified for construction at Tewantin and Goat Island.
The meeting heard oysters were fairly productive, quick to mature and each one would benefit the water quality of the river system although their overall benefit was difficult to measure and dependent on other inputs into the system.
Mayor Clare Stewart said the project had been waiting 15 months for state government permits and there was no further conversation to be had until the permits had been obtained.
Both councillors Amelia Lorentson and Karen Finzel agreed, with Cr Lorentson saying the state government approval was simply approval to proceed.
“We can’t pay our $200,000 until we can proceed,” she said.
The three councillors voted against accepting the report.
Councillors Brian Stockwell, Tom Wegener and Frank Wilkie voted in favour of its acceptance with chair Cr Wilkie casting the deciding vote in favour of acceptance.
Cr Brian Stockwell said it was no time to put the brakes on the project with the real risks of it being ecosystem decline.
It’s important we have the water quality benefit. This is about restoring ecosystems that were once abundant. It’s important to understand there are multiple benefits, he said.
Council’s decision on TNC’s report and second payment was to be finalised at its Ordinary Meeting on Thursday evening.