Council's fire focus turns to recovery 

REGION - Northern Grampians Shire Council is maintaining a strong focus on assisting with the recovery of communities impacted by both the Grampians and Black Range bushfires in January.

Recognising the road to full recovery could be lengthy, council has committed to putting in place mechanisms and resources to enable a full, quick recovery of public assets and facilities throughout the shire.

This will be achieved without compromising the objectives, service levels and goals articulated within the 2013-2017 Council Plan.

Council will also commence the formal development of a full Municipal Recovery Action Plan related to the fire events and will make appropriate applications for National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRAA) and other funding and resource assistance, to support the recovery program of the Northern Grampians Shire and Grampians regional communities.

As part of its fire recovery action plan, council will also write to the relevant State and Federal Government Ministers and Departments, requesting a deferment of milestones for key projects and activities currently underway in the shire.

In the wake of the bushfires, councillors and officers have expressed their pride in the recovery efforts to date and of the resilience shown by communities including Halls Gap.

A strong emphasis will now be put on ensuring the speedy recovery of these communities and to ensure that visitors keep returning to the Grampians.

Mayor Cr Kevin Erwin said fires were very unfortunate and it was vital that council continued to focus its efforts on assisting all affected communities in their recovery.

"Fires are an unfortunate fact of life," Cr Erwin said.

"From the CFA's perspective, they were very busy with lightning strikes throughout the region. We know the northern Grampians was affected and fires also burnt across our shire. I want every community to know that none of those people (affected) will be forgotten by any means during this recovery phase.

“If all the shires affected can band together and secure Category C funding, it would be great. We understand there are criteria that needs to be met and we will be doing our very best to ensure we meet that criteria.”

While the key focus remains recovery for communities, Cr Wayne Rice said he wanted to recognise the outstanding efforts of all emergency service personnel and volunteers during the height of the bushfire threat to communities.

Cr Rice asked that rather than just acknowledging the tremendous work of emergency services personnel, that attempts be made to fi nd out through the

Country Fire Authority and Department of Sustainability and Environment, the names of all brigades who attended.

“I think it would be a nice touch if we could send each of the brigades a letter of thanks from the Northern Grampians Shire Council,” he said.

“Emergency Services will get recognition and accolades through the media, but to receive a personal thanks from the shire and see it take pride of place in their building, I think would be a great gesture.

“It would also give us some good publicity in various other parts of the state.”

Cr Rice said he believed the response to the January bushfires was the best he had seen and that council’s emergency management was second to none.

“After the fires of 2005/06 and the floods of 2010/11, we seem to be getting good with practice unfortunately,” he said.

“I note that Peter Bigmore is back on board in emergency management with the council. Peter’s experience with the 2000 bushfires, to bring him back on board puts us on the front foot with a lot of these recovery efforts.

“It’s always difficult to say, when disaster has struck, that there are many positives, but in this instance, it would be fair to say we are doing okay.

“It was fortunate that building and life losses were minimal. Communities in the Grampians suffered badly, but a lot of the fire burnt in bushland.

“Thankfully, in the Black Range bushfire, there was no loss of life.

“We can now move into the recovery phase and put to good use, the expertise we have.

“We must now rely on money to come through and ensure we can support these communities who were affected. Then we need to rely on good old Mother Nature to deliver some rain and green the area up, without delivering a flood.”

Cr Karen Hyslop said the recovery effort needed to focus on everyone, from individuals to business operators.

“For those affected, the businesses and those who have lost income, it is important that we continue to lobby to get the funding needed to provide support,” Cr Hyslop said.

“The support we have received to date has been great and on visiting the Relief Centre in Stawell, the people there all said how wonderful the staff were, that they bent over backwards to help.

“The whole recovery effort has been overwhelming and it’s important that this continues.”

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