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Flood levee could be back on the agenda

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By Colin MacGillivray

This month’s flooding could put the need for a levee bank in Seymour back in the Mitchell Shire Council spotlight.

A Goulburn River flood levee had been discussed for more than a decade when councillors unanimously voted not to build one at a 2020 meeting, citing negative community response to the proposal.

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Council had secured $5.8 million in state and federal government money to build a levee, but argued the project would put undue burden on Seymour ratepayers.

However, since floodwaters rose during heavy rain earlier this month, inundating much of central Seymour, some businesses and residents have called for a levee to be put back on the council’s agenda.

Fred Sartori, who owns Sartori’s Panel Works on Emily Street, said he was spared the worst of the flooding after paying to build up the property in the 1990s, but that most other businesses in the west of the town suffered.

Mr Sartori has long advocated for a levee in Seymour, arguing it would eliminate costly building requirements for new businesses and bring the cost of insurance down.

Emily Street levee crossing (north) with barrier and water mockup, 2019

Some Seymour residents and businesses were uninsured when flooding struck, citing the prohibitive cost of paying for flood insurance.

Mr Sartori said most people were unaware of the cost of building requirements in the absence of a levee.

He said when supermarket chain Aldi built its shop on Tallarook Street, it was required to raise the site by 1.3 metres. He estimated the cost of doing so at a minimum of $250,000.

“Your average person who wants to build a shed and start a business isn’t going to be able to afford that,” he said.

Mr Sartori said flood insurance was another problem for many Seymour locals.

“I picked a house … that was built in the 1960s and rang an insurance agent and asked him … [to get] three or four quotes to insure it for $300,000,” he said.

“That house would cost about $800 or $900 to insure normally, and the cheapest quote was about $1800 and the most expensive was $4000 because of where it is. Most people are not going to pay that.

“And if that house in a flood area burns down, you cannot rebuild it at the same level, you have to raise it – that’s another thing you’re up against.”

A spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Australia called for the state and federal governments to spend more money on protecting flood-prone communities.

“In late February, the Insurance Council released our report Building a More Resilient Australia, which argued that the Federal Government should increase its investment in measures to better protect homes and communities from the impacts of extreme weather to $200 million a year, and this should be matched by the states and territories,” they said.

“The Victorian Government contribution was calculated to be $111 million over five years, which, when combined with an equal investment from the Commonwealth, was calculated to provide a return of investment of $3.185 billion to 2050, or 14 times the value of the investment.

“The Insurance Council recommended this program include a $522 million Local Infrastructure Fund, and identified both Shepparton and Seymour as areas that would benefit from flood mitigation projects such as levees and floodways.”

Mitchell Shire Council Mayor Bill Chisholm said council would consider re-examining the need for a levee after flood clean-up efforts concluded.

“Council is focused on supporting our communities to recover from these floods and has not discussed revisiting the proposed flood levee,” he said.

“However, council is not afraid of making difficult decisions and when the time is right, the issue of the flood levee can be discussed again.

“This discussion will involve the community feedback from 2019, where a majority of the community did not want the flood levee.

“But council will evaluate new information and will continue to listen to the community about the flood levee issue.”

Mr Sartori said council had put the cost of the levee onto ratepayers as a means of ‘[letting themselves] off the hook’.

“Two years ago the council put it back on the ratepayers to build a levee bank, and naturally if you don’t know anything about it, you’re going to vote no,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s an easy solution to all of this, but I think we need businesspeople and everybody else to sit down and discuss it.

“It’s been 48 years since the last flood, but it could only be one year until we get another one – you just don’t know.”

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