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Poor Mogo Bushfire Recovery effort comes under the spotlight

First it was the Premier, on her recent visit, who noted that nothing much had changed in Mogo a year after the bushfires. Today saw the township visited once again by senior politicians to see for themselves where the substantial bucket of Bushfire Recovery funding that had been bestowed on Mogo, had been spent. They were not impressed. Once again it was noted that not much had changed and there was little in the way of the promised infrastructure that would have laid the fabric for the rebuild of the township. Even the town sign, standing as a stark reminder of the events of last year, remained as it was for more than six months before it was eventually removed, and is not to be replaced by Council until 2022. Locals have been watching and waiting for the burnout buildings along the highway to rise from the ashes. Instead they hear of the many struggles being experienced in the bureaucracy of planning hurdles. In over a year the Mogo village has seen little, if any, Council activity that would indicate money was being spent directly from the generous State and Federal Bushfire Recovery Funds. The once beautiful Mogo Creek is full of weeds and burned plants invade and choke the creek. The community BBQ facility that the council removed and promised to return remains missing. The central toilet block in John Street Reserve that was approved in December 2019, destined to give access to the elderly and disabled has not eventuated. To the casual observer it is evident that there has been little, if any, monies spent by Council on new or improved infrastructure with, it appears, the bulk of the monies being spent on planning, strategies and administration. Council might like to claim the resurfacing of Annette Street and the short length of footpath that the Mogo community have needed for many years, but that work was prioritised, scheduled and budgeted for long ago and has little to do with Bushfire Recovery. Council this week made the announcement of funds found in residue of Bushfire Recovery Funds that they would now graciously allocate to the Mogo township. The footpaths to be built were already identified in Council's Footpath Strategy and all Council has done is to redirect Bushfire Recovery Funds to pay for standard budget items. This does NOT tick the box of what the Bushfire Recovery funds were for. The community priority that was overlooked was the dire need to resurface Mogo's footpaths that have become trip hazards to the disabled and elderly who visit Mogo's Main Street. Locals ask "What about our non existent town sign that should welcome people to our village on the Moruya side of our village that was taken by the bushfire? Our once beautiful village has seen no progress! The empty blocks across the road with their orange or chicken mesh fences a constant reminder of missing neighbours. Once beautiful front gardens and well kept lawns behind their stores were something to be proud of". In response to criticism of having done very little, if anything, Council responded saying they had provided free BAL certificates, successfully lobbied the NSW Government to remove offsets for vegetation clearing, and enabling owners to set up temporary dwellings. The fact is that the Council were well compensated for any fees "they" waived. It was also the collective lobbying of NSW Councils that removed offsets for vegetation clearing and t was the Planning Minister who enabled owners to set up temporary dwellings. Council also advise they helped set up the temporary mall which was, in fact, installed and provided rent-free by Biz Rebuild to enable business to continue trading while they rebuild. Of interest Council have advised that "the fires had provided an opportunity for Council to reassess Mogo’s infrastructure," saying "The village deserves well-planned facilities for residents and visitors. To that end, we’re spending bushfire recovery funding on town planning, collaborating with Mogo’s community to find the best results for the whole village, including infrastructure like toilets, parks, parking, picnic tables and barbecues. On the 18th of February 2021 the Mayor said “The Mogo Village Place Activation Plan will be finished in the next six months, and having a comprehensive and strategic approach means Council can attract funding for things like an accessible public toilet in a well-sited location.” Just how much funding does Council require for an accessible public toilet and why couldn't it have been paid for with Bushfire Recovery Funds to help the Mogo Business Precinct back on its feet? Presently Mogo has one poor standard public toilet at Tomakin Road. Responding to criticism on Social Media of inaction the Mayor said on February 18th, 2021, some fourteen months after the bushfires “We’ve been helping landholders with the creek. Although it’s on private land, we’re assisting with weed management this week and have offered funding for creek rehabilitation.” The council have finally upgraded Annette Street however the walkway between Annette St and the Charles Street car park, where the temporary mall is currently located, remains a poor quality gravel pathway unable to be accessed by anyone in a wheelchair, walker or pram turning into a bog that has seen locals lay pallets over the large puddles for able bodied folks to get across. It is therefore unsurprising that to the casual observer there is little evidence of the millions of dollars that came into the region for Bushfire Recovery. The casual observer is not aware of the fact that a substantive percentage of the Mogo Recovery money is being spent funding town planning that was already on the cards long before the bushfires. Visiting politicians might well express their disappointment at seeing little done in Mogo that may have lifted community spirits.They too might look for any evidence that might have resulted from the millions of dollars allocated into tactile, tangible symbols of regrowth and renewal.

The underlying disappointment they will not see, however, is the fact that within the Mogo community there are those who are now labeled as loud, as whingers, as non-team players, who dared to draw attention and who dared to question and seek answers. Of interest is the fact that Council recently commissioned a consultant company to conduct street surveys across the Shire to measure the community satisfaction of Council. Such a report augers well in Annual reports when a glowing report card is received. Sadly the two most financially and socially impacted townships of the bushfires, being Mogo and Batemans Bay were not surveyed as "Council had run out of money". It will be of interest to read this report when it is presented to Council. Facing such criticisms from the Mogo community requires leadership that is willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the community, to listen to them and to advocate on their behalf. What we do not need are those who might choose to walk away when questioned, or who might seek to blame others or to foolishly suggest that elements of the community are simply ill informed, loud, irrational, stressed, selfish and not to be listened to or believed. It is good news that Mogo is gaining the long overdue spotlight it deserves. To see the Premier and senior politicians agree that there is little evidence on the ground of any of the intended rebuild money that was meant to be fast tracked is a step in the right direction. All too late for some .... but at least it is a step forward.

Image: The Mogo Lolly Shop

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