Opening a crisis dialogue

It was standing room only at the Old Tenterfield Church after the 'toilet-to-tap' headline on a Sydney newspaper story about Tenterfield's water situation left the community feeling sidestepped and demanding answers of its council.

Kerri Hampton, who organised the meeting in conjunction with local business owner Matt Richardson and Vince Sherry, felt the exercise was well worth the effort in that it started a line of communication between the community and council.

"It showed that the community has a voice, and needs to be heard," she said, "especially with this water crisis taking control of people's lives."

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She said there was obviously some angst in those that spoke from the floor, but the meeting gave them an opportunity to vent their frustration. She felt the format allowed people to voice criticisms they'd otherwise be hesitant to say, and illustrated that people aren't satisfied with the status quo of how council interacts with its customers especially in times of emergency.

While she said council chief executive Terry Dodds' detailed knowledge of the water situation is second-to-none, the audience came away with some questions answered and others not, such as the toxicity of the water people are showering in if it's not suitable for drinking.

On the prospect of recycled water Ms Hampton said it's a topic that needed to be handled with care and education, not sprung on the community via a Sydney newspaper report.

"There's no acknowledgement that that report has damaged the town. Bookings have been cancelled."

She feels the community is looking for short-term plans, such as what happens if the aging filtration plant dies tomorrow? Is there any compensation for the estimated $60 a week to buy drinking water in the interim?

She said there will be many more meetings as local business people band together to move the shire forward, hopefully in collaboration with council.

"Regular community engagement is essential," she said.

Mayor Peter Petty felt the meeting was worthwhile and that people went away better informed.

He said the Sydney story which refocused a meeting misled the community into thinking that the use of recycled water was imminent, when in fact it's beyond the capabilities of the current filtration plant.

Instead council is formulating tender documents for its new filtration plant, and is looking at including a capability to handle recycled water in the new plant's specifications. Mr Petty said even if it proved financially viable, which is doubtful given the small user base, the concept would definitely be discussed with the community before proceeding any further.

Thursday's meeting was followed by a barbecue, with local fuel retailer Mobil taking the opportunity to distribute 1000 bottles of donated water to the community.

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