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Saving jobs saves sawmill near Grafton

The jobs of eight sawmill workers were a key factor in allowing a mill near Grafton to keep operating despite doubts about the legality of its operation. Source: The Daily Examiner

Councillors voted 7-1 to allow the Raging Red Timbers mill at the Pinnacles, north of Grafton, to keep operating, but at a reduced capacity, while it allowed the mill owner to modify its application to the council.

The decision reflected last week’s committee recommendation. The council was flooded with submissions opposing the mill operation and its proposal to modify its development consent, first granted in 1998 by the Copmanhurst Shire Council, to allow it to install a wood chipper and 5000-litre diesel fuel tank.

It received 19 submissions and a petition with 205 signatures opposing the increase in the mill operations.

At the meeting, the council’s director of environment, planning and community, Des Schroder, spelt out the issues with the mill’s application. He said the original DA was granted on the condition its consent was renewed every two years, which had not happened.

Mr Schroder also told the meeting the current owner’s attempt to vary the consent was unlikely to succeed because it was too great a modification.

In debate the Greens’ Cr Greg Clancy moved to overturn the committee decision and return to the recommendation in the staff report to shut the mill down until the owners submitted more information to the April council meeting.

His motion was defeated and Cr Richie Williamson’s foreshadowed a motion to follow the committee recommendation replaced it.

Most councillors opposed this, mainly on the grounds shutting the mill until at least April was unfair on the workers.

Cr Richie Williamson summed it up, saying if the mill was shut tomorrow eight workers would be out of a job until at least April. He argued there was a loophole in the 1998 DA’s stipulation of a two-yearly review of consent.

“The DA is silent on the issue of who initiates the review,” Cr Williamson said. “It doesn’t instruct the applicant to initiate the review or instruct the council to seek one.”

He said it would be reckless to shut down the mill on this basis.

In his right of reply, Cr Clancy criticised councillors for shirking a difficult decision and said the mill owners were the ones who placed the workers’ jobs at risk by working without consent.

He also said the restriction on the mill’s output to the 1998 consent levels was likely to result in job losses.

“They won’t go from having eight people producing 11,500 cubic metres to producing 1600 cubic metres (the 1998 production level) and have half the staff sitting around. They will cut jobs,” Cr Clancy said.

He said the council needed to make hard decision to seek a new DA under modern conditions relevant to establishing a timber mill now.