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Flood-affected WA farmers plead for faster relief funding

Mark Bennett, Friday February 24, 2017 - 20:49 EDT
ABC image
Lloyd and Cheryl Burrell inspect erosion damage on their Mt Madden property. - ABC

Flood-affected farmers in the Ravensthorpe shire on the south coast of WA say the State Government has been slow in reacting to their plight, adding there is a lack of comprehension around the scale of the damage.

They have called on the Minister for Agriculture to speed up the assessment process for the disaster relief funding package announced by the Federal and State governments a fortnight ago.

At a growers group meeting held in Ravensthorpe, concerns were raised that rehabilitation work to roads and farms was being held up by a lack of support and a slow-moving bureaucratic process.

Farmer Andrew Duncan says many farms received 300 millimetres of rain over the four-day period, the equivalent of their annual average.

Access roads and crossings have been washed out making it difficult to assess the impact of the floods.

Many farms are still waterlogged and numerous local roads remain under water.

Mr Duncan said the floods had also caused severe erosion.

"There's probably a handful of growers in this district, the damage has been very, very significant probably in the order of a quarter-of-a-million dollars plus per producer," he said.

"Unfortunately to date some two weeks down the track we still haven't had a formal assessment to aggregate the level of damage there's no comprehension of the total level of damage in the shire."

He has called on the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mark Lewis, to put assessors on the ground as soon as possible.

Government assessors are required to work out the dollar damage to a property to be able to calculate the amount of funding available.

Mr Duncan said when the Minister toured the damaged districts a week ago, he gave an undertaking he would have a team on the ground as soon as possible.

"Here we are two weeks after the event, and no-one has started that process," he said.

Mr Lewis said had encouraged his staff to make contact.

"Regardless whether they can get out there ... they've had a touch point with the department and then when there is access to get across the whole property then we will follow up," he said.

"I've encouraged the department to do that ASAP."

Cropping land damaged

For farmer Sam Gould at Hopetoun, that process cannot start soon enough.

Five hundred hectares of his cropping country is submerged .

On some of his best paddocks, which he would normally be spraying in preparation for seeding, black swans have taken up residence.

"I've worked out it's roughly between 8 and 9 per cent of our cropping land for this season, so that's hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential income that we are not going to have," he said.

"This is more than one year, this is going to take two to three years to get rid of all this water, and we've got the salinity problems.

"We are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost income per year for every year that it is there."

Mr Lewis visited the Hopetoun property last week and gave an undertaking he would get a hydrologist to see how the lake might be drained.

Mr Gould said he was still waiting.

"I'd just love the water to be gone, I don't know how many years this is going to be here for."

Funding plea

The farmers and the shire are also pushing for an extra category of relief funding to be released as part of the natural disaster funding package.

Category C funding would allow shires to reclaim expenses for using their own equipment to repair the roads, and farmers could receive ex-gratia payments to pay for earthmoving equipment to shift debris and silt that has washed across paddocks and fences.

Lloyd and Cheryl Burrell have lost an estimated 300 hectares on their property at Mount Madden through erosion.

Conservation measures they had taken to preserve their sandy soil country were destroyed in the downpour.

They could benefit from the Category C funding, but are resigned to paying for the restoration work themselves.

"For us the only thing we can do is lots of man hours and heavy machinery and essentially pay for it out of your own pocket," Mr Burrell said.

"We won't get it done in time for this year's seeding, the tramline erosion is going to take years to restore... we didn't estimate we would have so much damage on just flat country."

In the meantime, townsfolk are also hoping for more assistance from the Government.

Shire chief executive Ian Fitzgerald said he was disappointed at the apparent lack of interest from the state's decision makers.

"If I was quietly and brutally frank, I'd say it's because there is an election and everybody is worried about getting the vote for themselves and not worried about the general community or those down here doing it tough at the moment," he said.

"We need help. We are the worst affected shire in the state and we need some help and we need it now."

Mr Lewis told the ABC assessors would be in the town by February 28.


© ABC 2017

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