top of page
Screenshot 2023-06-13 180949.png
  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Eurobodalla Council’s director of infrastructure hangs up the high-vis


After almost 38 years in the job, Eurobodalla Council’s director of infrastructure is hanging up his high-vis.

Warren Sharpe AOM – ‘Sharpy’ to many – said it had been an incredible journey since starting as Council’s assistant works engineer in 1985 straight out of uni.

“I was well educated but pretty green, so I turned to our experienced staff to soak in their extensive practical knowledge and experience, and then blended in my own expertise. It was a great match that helped our team and my own learning,” Warren said.

Warren rose rapidly through the ranks into senior engineering roles, becoming the technical services manager in 1996, works manager in 1999, and later group manager roads and recreation in 2006, which was retitled director in 2008.

“Over the years, I’ve had lots of different roles covering all areas of infrastructure. When I look at the team now I know our community will be well served in the future,” he said.

Looking back over the decades, Warren can point to a long list of accomplishments, big and small, but also acknowledges the constraints of working in local government.

“We’re looking after $2B of infrastructure that our rate income cannot support alone so we have to be innovative, think laterally and leverage every dollar we can from the NSW and Australian governments to support our community.

“I love the Aussie cynicism and we’re the closest level of government to the people with expectations often exceeding what we can provide. But I’ve found the best way is to partner with our community and show we’re going to bat for them. We get lots of letters and notes from people thanking our team for what they do,” Warren said.

“Tight budgets mean you often need to be patient. For example, back in 1998 we knew it was logical that the caravan park couldn’t stay alongside the Moruya River due to flood risk. But it wasn’t until 2006 that we had money to build Riverside Park; transforming a messy and run-down site with lots of asbestos into a beaut community area with paths, seating, amphitheatre, amenity block and playground, now home to two popular weekly markets that bring thousands of people to town.

“I’m proud to have been instrumental in the development of nationally-accredited training structures for our operational teams, creating hundreds of opportunities for local youth using our apprentice and cadet programs, and in driving diversity within the engineering sector.”

Warren has always been admired within his professional circle. However, it was as the Local Emergency Management Officer during the 2019-20 bushfires that he became better known to the community at large, moving heaven and earth to get done those things that needed doing.

“When we see the community pulling together in a disaster – well that’s resilience right there. That’s what should happen. There will never be enough fire trucks, enough emergency crews to protect every property, especially in a shire like ours. Residents really do need to get their properties prepared and disaster plans in place – that’s something I really want the community to take on board following the fires and floods since 2019,” Warren said.

“Of course, government needs to do its bit. By partnering with others, we’ve made real progress around the resilience of local roads and bridges, water and sewerage systems, telecommunications, power supply and highways. Ensuring our alternate coastal routes are resilient is so important for future disasters as we will always need functional alternatives when the highway closes.”

When asked what’s next, Warren said he was effectively retiring, at least for now.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with my biggest supporter, my wife Rose, and our kids and grandkids as well as catching up with family and friends hardly seen over the last three years. And I hope to dust the fly rod off and head into the mountains for some quiet time. Then who knows what the future holds.”


Above: Last plans: Eurobodalla Council’s director of infrastructure services Warren Sharpe OAM signs his last set of plans this week after 37 years in the job. Parting thoughts from Sharpy

As Warren Sharpe OAM hangs up his high-vis this week after almost 38 years with Eurobodalla Shire Council, he’d like to share some parting thoughts.

As a local government engineer it is amazing to be able to help build a safer, more equitable, prosperous and resilient community while looking after this unique place we know as Eurobodalla.

It is the challenge of most regional councils and a financial reality that our rate base in Eurobodalla cannot support the range of services we deliver alongside the $2 billion worth of infrastructure we look after for our community.

So we must continue to find clever ways to get better outcomes for our community, including partnering with the NSW and Australian governments through grants or service delivery. Eurobodalla Council’s success in this space has seen us deliver some incredible outcomes while avoiding major hikes in rates.

It’s necessary to be patient at times. For example, we’ve been planning for the southern water storage dam since 2016. We fought for funding, bending the ears of MPs and Ministers from all sides, until we got what our community needed and construction is now underway for a dam that will secure our water supply for decades to come.

The clever way we have integrated road safety, worker safety and first responder safety into our work and transport strategies – including effective re-use of earthworks and other material – is already saving lives and road-related trauma.

Success is the result of our highly skilled, committed, and diverse team. I know they will serve our community well beyond my own tenure. I’m proud to have been instrumental in the development of nationally-accredited training structures for our operational teams; creating hundreds of opportunities for local youth using our apprentice and cadet programs, and in driving diversity within the engineering sector.

Years ago I decided to get involved at the strategic level, to advocate for regional communities, and to keep learning every day. As a kid from Bemboka who did well at university and was able to return ‘home’ to work as a qualified engineer, I wanted to continue that contribution. I sought out roles that included; executive member of South East Australian Transport Strategy, Chair of the Canberra Region Joint Operations’ infrastructure working group, NSW Roads and Transport panel, NSW Skills Shortage Panel, NSW Asset Management Panel, board member and president of IPWEA NSW/ACT and an Australasian IPWEA board member.

These roles helped me work with others to put forward aggregated, evidence-based cases to the NSW and Australian governments to influence policy and attract funding.

It is very humbling to have my community and peers provide public recognition of my work including the NSW and Australian Public Works Leader of the Year 2011, Medal of Order of Australia 2014, SEATS Inspirational Leaders Award 2018, IPWEA Emeritus Award 2021, and the Australasia Keith H Wood Medal 2022.

As the public face of Council’s infrastructure team and as Eurobodalla’s local emergency management officer, the 2019-20 bushfires and following years of flood meant a very busy time.

People will always look to government during and after natural disasters and the challenges our community faced were huge. During that time, my goal was to bring a sense of calm to the chaos. What our multi-agency and Council teams did during that period was beyond incredible and still makes me emotional thinking back on the extraordinary efforts in the face of such adversity. I was proud that 87 members of our team were recognised with a National Emergency Medal for their work.

We all need to take responsibility in an emergency. That is what we saw the community do and that was the most inspiring element of that awful time. There will be more natural disasters in the future and we must all commit to being prepared. Directly engaging with so many people – often in quite stressful situations – has provided unique insights and driven me to put together our Eurobodalla Infrastructure Resilience Plan to address major challenges to resilience, including some well outside the remit of local government.

By partnering with others, we’ve made real progress around the resilience of local roads and bridges, water and sewerage systems, telecommunications, power supply and highways. We’ve secured support from state and federal governments to better integrate resilience in everything we do.

My original retirement plans were put on hold while working with the community to recover from the bushfires and floods, and to secure the major grants for infrastructure necessities like the new dam in the south of the shire, replacement of 30 timber bridges and causeways, and the new regional emergency services precinct for Moruya, among others.

I feel incredibly privileged to have shared the journey with so many wonderful people.

Now for some time with family and friends.

Comments


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

buymeacoffee.png
bottom of page