Unique sewerage system in Launceston costly to fix

Labor’s $250 million commitment to replacing Launceston’s combined stormwater and sewerage pipework could fall short of the work needed to be done, according to a 2016 independent report.

A report, by consultants Beca on behalf of TasWater to investigate solutions for the system, found that full separation was likely to cost $440 million, though could be as low as $300 million or as high as $560 million.

The system is a sore point for Launceston businesses and residents as, during times of heavy flow, it deposits raw sewage into the Tamar estuary.

The report found that overflows occur frequently with 10 spills occurring on average week, and that full separation would not completely fix the problem but cut the spill volume by 65 per cent.

Other options to reduce spills include spending $121 million to build three retention tanks to hold up to 88 per cent of the spill volume, or direction of overflows for storage at the Ti Tree Bend sewerage treatment plant at a cost of $167 million. 

The state government has slammed Labor’s plan to have this project and two others in the South – $160 million for Macquarie Point sewerage works and $50 million of works at Camerons Bay – funded by private superannuation funds.

Treasurer Peter Gutwein said the interest and expected returns from investors could see bills rise up to 18 per cent.

Opposition Leader Bryan Green denied the figure, saying it would match the interest rate applied to the $1 billion the government would need to borrow from TasCorp to complete its accelerated five-year capital works plan from mid-next year.

“Institutional investors look for a rate of return of around the same figure as interest rates,” he said.

Mr Gutwein said the government would consider funding for the three projects but the five-year plan would be prioritised.

He said the plan included $270 million for sewerage upgrades in Launceston which were expected to take pressure off the combined system.

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage said she would move to form a select committee in the upper house next week to probe the government’s plan to takeover TasWater with eight members expressing interest in participating.

She said the committee would prevent delays in the legislation passing through the upper house in spring.

Meanwhile, local government head Doug Chipman has lashed out at the government for using slow movement on resolving boil-water alerts in Tasmanian towns as justification for launching a takeover of TasWater.

The government has announced that it would this year legislate to make TasWater a Government Business Enterprise, seizing the corporation from council ownership.

Councils will retain an estimated $30 million in dividends until 2024-25 and half thereafter. 

Local Government Association of Tasmania president Doug Chipman  on Thursday accused the government of being “fast and loose” with facts, politically opportunistic, and misleading in their approach to the takeover this week.

“This continued rhetoric downplaying the accomplishments and plans for TasWater ultimately hurts all Tasmanians – impacting on our reputation nationally and internationally,” he said.

Mr Gutwein said the councils had almost nine years to act on boil-water alerts and had waited too long. “Over the period that we’ve been in government, I’ve been raising the issue of water and sewerage will local government as the owners, pushing them to do more using both the strong balance sheet of the company and the strong sector balance sheet,” he said.

Mr Green said the government’s argument for seizing control of TasWater in July 2018 to fix boil-water alerts was false with TasWater’s current project program ensuring all remaining towns on alerts would have them removed by that year.

Avoca, Lady Barron, Mole Creek, Pioneer and Mountain River are expected to be removed from the alerts by July 1. Derby, Branxholm, Legerwood and Winnaleah will be removed in by the end of August

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