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River Murray towns count high cost of flood cleanup

River Murray towns facing mammoth flood repair bills are struggling to find the cash to rebuild bridges, lay thousands of metres of turf and reopen reserves, with local leaders calling for urgent funding.

Mar 31, 2023, updated Mar 31, 2023
A houseboat still stranded on the River Murray banks in the Mid Murray Council area. Photo: Facebook

A houseboat still stranded on the River Murray banks in the Mid Murray Council area. Photo: Facebook

Mid Murray Council is waiting to hear back from the state government after asking for more much-needed funds, saying it has only managed to reopen three of 27 reserves and get five out of 28 septic wastewater systems back in action since floodwaters receded.

Only three of 25 public boat ramps are open – with plans to get them all accessible for Easter – and 19 of 39 public toilets can now be used.

One houseboat owner is still living on the River Murray banks at Nildottie in a tent, after being caught out conducting repairs as floodwaters fell.

Mayor Simone Bailey said a levee dividing Mannum’s main street to protect the town has been removed but the road still needs re-sealing, while businesses caught on the flooded side of the levee are still dealing with damage.

Power was reconnected to one flooded store, the DejaVu water sport shop, earlier this month and its owners are repainting in a bid to reopen the business for the Easter long weekend.

But Bailey said council resources are severely stretched as it deals with the impact of flooding in Blanchetown, Bowhill, Mannum, Swan Reach, Walker Flat and Morgan.

The Mid Murray region was hard hit, with 2300 dwellings inundated and 155 kilometres of roads damaged or destroyed.

Simone Bailey at a Mannum levee as River Murray flood waters rose. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“We still have so much work to do, our roads, 85 per cent are completed and opened, our community wastewater systems, five out of 28 are open,” she said.

“Our staff are working around the clock to try and get things operating.”

Further upstream in Renmark Paringa, Mayor Peter Hunter estimates his council area faces a flood preparation and repair bill of up to $8 million, while the council region’s annual rate collection is only “about $10 million”.

“This affects our budget for years to come,” Hunter said, adding that it was unclear as yet how much of the state and federal government’s promised funding support would help as the total amount must be shared throughout river regions.

“It cost us more than $80,000 to just re-establish the grass and gardens on the waterfront at Renmark. We wanted that done before the dinghy derby this weekend, that’s $80,000 we didn’t have in the budget.

“The backlog of projects is now also significant. We have cut I think 14 projects so far and we’re looking at putting more on hold; this includes all kinds of projects, the netball court resurfacing will be put on hold, for example.”

Two of the largest challenges are fixing stormwater and replacing the town’s busy Twentyfirst Street Bridge that is still closed and expected to cost “many millions of dollars” to rebuild so trucks, buses and cars can use the access point.

About $1 million has been spent on plugging the town’s 33 stormwater outlets with capping, balloons, concrete and steel pylons to stop river water rising high alongside levees at the floods’ peak, and now getting them unblocked and working again.

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Hunter said the Twentyfirst Street Bridge was a crucial piece of infrastructure but was significantly damaged during the flood, with engineering assessments confirming it is no longer safe to use.

Families walk across the flooded Twentyfirst Street Bridge during flooding at Renmark. Photo: Facebook

But there are bright spots, with the State Government’s new tourist voucher scheme boosting visitors to the region and places like the Morgan Caravan Park getting ready for a busy Easter.

“Leigh (Cock) at Morgan Caravan Park had about 20 of his friends show up on the weekend to get (hundreds of square metres in) new turf down,” Bailey said.

“I’ve been seeing that community spirit in every town I’ve been to visit.”

Deputy Premier Susan Close is overseeing the Green Industries SA response to the flood clean up that has managed to achieve “about 50 per cent by weight in recycling”. She attended a local government conference last week where Bailey raised the region’s financial and repair challenge.

“Once the government has received that letter it will be considered,” Close said, adding that the government recognised councils faced challenges ahead and “we are not abandoning anyone, we have stood shoulder to shoulder with the community” and will have a “sympathetic ear”.

“I had a meeting in Murray Bridge this week and stopped at Bowhill to see how kerbside clean ups are going,” Close said.

The government is providing a free service where residents can leave flood-damaged debris like gyprock, damaged sandbags, insulation, carpet or furniture for pick up. Close said it would take time for home and shack owners to clear damage but “we are now getting very close to house-by-house assessments for people who have applied for grants”.

Bowhill recently had its public toilet system reconnected, Close said, meaning the well-known general store’s owners can start rostering more staff on to work.

This followed a Facebook post earlier this month from the owners saying its dining area was still closed as the store’s septic system was flooded, meaning there were no drainage points for “our public toilets, hand basins, dish washers, washing machine, which connects with the Bowhill public toilets and the majority of shacks and homes in the area”.

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