East Gippsland Shire Council has confirmed the total external cost associated with its involvement in the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Project Environmental Effects Statement (EES) and Inquiry and Advisory Committee (IAC) hearing.
Total hearing costs amounted to $730,688 at the conclusion of the process in July, after 10 weeks, 36 hearing days and three directions hearings.
The cost of Council’s legal representation for the hearing is summarised as follows (all costs ex GST):
IAC hearing legal representation: $585,473
Expert witnesses: $145,215
In February 2021, Council estimated hearing costs at $490,000 for the initial 31-day expected hearing timeline for legal representation only. Council was later briefed that the cost of legal representation for the hearing could rise to approximately $700,000, given an increase in preparation and hearing days as a result of more information being presented by other parties, the proponent introducing new material and revised expert statements and requests for adjournment.
Representation at the hearing was a decision of Council in December 2020.
Chief Executive Officer Anthony Basford said participation in the hearing came at a cost, but Council’s continued representation was important for the community.
“It’s important for local government to be at the table to provide feedback on the issues identified through the technical review and argue for good environmental, social and economic outcomes,” Mr Basford said.
Council maintained its transparency with the community throughout the process and Councillors were kept fully briefed on all costs associated with the IAC hearing throughout.
Pre-hearing preparation costs have been previously disclosed, with an additional cost of $140,000 for the review of the EES and preparation of the project technical review submitted by Council’s consultant SLR Consulting Pty Ltd. This brings the total cost of Council’s involvement to $870,989.
Mr Basford said participation in the IAC allowed Council to be able to highlight the deficiencies of the EES at the hearing.
“We are now undertaking an advocacy process on the need for an urgent review of the EES process which, in its current form, puts local government and the communities it represents at a significant disadvantage in terms of the financial, social and human resource implications,” Mr Basford said.
“We’ve written to several people including the Premier and the Minister for Planning and the Mayor, Cr Mendy Urie, has also taken the issue to the Local Government Mayoral Advisory Panel.
“A few possible solutions we’re proposing to this complex issue include early planning to help reduce costs, funding to support the continuation of local government ‘business as usual’ functions and Technical Reference Group changes to support our ability to seek input from the community.”
All details and recordings relating to the hearing can be found on the Engage Victoria website. This includes Council’s full submission in the ‘Tabled Documents’ section of the webpage.