While community groups across the South East are working furiously towards the upcoming deadline for the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) Fund that closes on 28 January 2021 there is still little or no evidence from Eurobodalla of any action being put into place to circulate into the community the "fast -tracked" $5.3m they received from the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery in November 2020.
Meanwhile it is hard work for most the community groups now filling in their application forms before the deadline to access some of the $250 million of funding to support the social and economic recovery of bushfire-affected communities. Generally Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) Fund applications must demonstrate that the project will support: the economic or social recovery of the LGA or region and the strengthening of community resilience. Applications must provide evidence the community supports the project. Evidence could include: letters of support , minutes or reports from community meetings , community led funding proposals. The application must also demonstrate the project will optimise local and or indigenous employment and procurement opportunities. This could include work for local trades, services or other input businesses as well as potential for direct community employment on the project. Applications must demonstrate the community has a need for the proposed project and its outcomes and demonstrate the project output will deliver an ongoing, sustainable benefit for the community. And most importantly applications must provide evidence the project has been adequately planned, costed and appropriate mitigation strategies are in place for identified risks. Fortunately for Eurobodalla Council they received $5.3 million from the Bushfire Recovery Fund even though they didn't put in an application. It was just announced. Must have come as a surprise even. No application, no request.... just a "here you go"....the $5.3 million was a special "fast-track" grant. No paperwork required. The General Manager confirmed this as the case in a letter to local group ABE dated Dec 14th, 2020 saying: "While Council did not officially submit an application for funding for this project [Batemans Bay Coastal Headland walk] under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery fund, the Government was aware of this project as a result of the above strategies." So it appears that the Federal Government and the State Government were aware of a notional idea of a Coastal Walk that had been vaguely mentioned in a few thought-bubble strategies written by consultants that had no route, no costings, no evidence of consultation with the community and they (the Federal Government and the State Government fast-track panel) decided it was such a vital project that they would bypass all scrutiny and give $5.25M to the project even though the Eurobodalla community hadn't actually asked for it and that it hadn't been costed, had no detail and had not been formally endorsed by councillors. Had the Coastal Walk not been "fast-tracked" it would have required a rigorous Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) Fund application like everyone else's.... that would include the specific scope of works and key milestones of the project along with evidence of alignment with regional objectives, evidence of local support and participation, evidence of the need for the project as well as its feasibility and evidence of enduring benefit. Had the Walking Track not been "fast-tracked" it would also have required a completed business case with evidence of estimated costs. It is clear that in December 2020, one month after the announcement of the $5.3 million, that Council had NOT undertaken community consultation, reviewed sites or reviewed budgets as it was only on December 10th, 2020 that they adopted the Nature Based Tourism Feasibility Study 2019 that called for such actions to be undertaken.