22nd August 2023.
In Maui on Tuesday August 8 a perfect storm of dry ground, windy conditions and heat enabled terrible fires to destroy thousands of homes in Maui, Hawaii. The situation on the ground that the people dealt with is heartbreaking and the individual stories of loss that are now being broadcast are similar to those that are shared by many people who know Members in this place, and many from my community who remember the major fires over the past few decades.
The fires on August 8 jumped containment lines through the day and spread through the town of Lahaina, a township of 13,000 not much different from the population projections based on current growth and approvals for Wilton and Appin that too is surrounded by bush land and only one way in and out.
The ocean that contained the people of Maui is similar to the ridges that contain the population of Wollondilly, the place where we have now an approved 40,000 projected homes thanks to the former Liberal Government.
This risk is one that is not unknown to many in this place. Following the Black Wattle Fires Wollondilly Shire Council was given a grant and sought to create the Hazards Analysis and Emergency Management Study (HAEMS), a study that would presented evidence-based advice to mitigate risk associated with natural and human-made hazards across the Shire, including exit times for villages that will grow to over 8 hours.
The areas of risk are increased as the population in certain areas have grown. This includes the Northern part of my electorate in Warragamba, Silverdale and towards The Oaks. As well as the areas in the central part of Wollondilly with Picton, Tahmoor and Thirlmere, relying on the ageing Victoria Bridge and the single lane each way railway underpass to exit.
We need to plan for disaster here in two ways. I recognise the Reconstruction Authority’s brief in developing and implementing methodologies for disaster resilience, adaptation and mitigation activities. I look forward to the outcomes from the newly created Authority for State Wide preparedness. I also look forward to reading the full unredacted Hazards Analysis and Emergency Management Study (HAEMS) when the Council finally releases the document for the more locals to read.
The blockages and the increased times should also inform our decisions and infrastructure provision. Perhaps it isn’t the 13,000 homes a developer should receive and larger blocks with smaller population would be more in keeping and manageable. We also need to look for solutions of infrastructure clogs and this means we need the Picton Bypass.
I don’t want the community of any of the villages in Wollondilly to be the next Lahaina. The villages of Picton, Tahmoor and Thirlmere are surrounded by bushland, we have been through a dry winter and the risk of fire this season is high. The projection for years to come is higher as the el nino dry period is beginning. The townships are at risk and what is key is access to the freeway or alternative accessways through the north. Ultimately the completion of the M9, Maldon Dombarton and a number of freeway interchanges would be needed. However I am a realist, that small list is in the hundreds of billions and we need to prepare with what we have.
The Picton Bypass is a project that is partially completed, a journey of close to 35 years and one that needs to be done. It will unlock the community to access the freeway easier, the single lane and weight limited bridge will fail in an emergency as will the single lane each way underpass. I know this because they failed last time, fortunately the wind changed that afternoon in 2019. Otherwise the story would have been much different. Balmoral was lost, Buxton and Thirlmere were next to go with so much fuel and beautiful bushland turned deadly thanks to years of drought.
The difference is ours to make and I seek and answer from the Government for Wollondilly now. Starting the preferred option for the Picton Bypass today is what is needed. We need to have these needs addressed now. Because if we don't, if the unthinkable tomorrow occurs and the fires return to Wollondilly and if the wind doesn’t change then it will be too late.