Hundreds of bushfire-affected properties still to be cleared, two weeks out from deadline

Hundreds of bushfire-affected properties still to be cleared, two weeks out from deadline

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The immediate aftermath of the Badja Forest Road in Cobargo. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The immediate aftermath of the Badja Forest Road in Cobargo. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

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Hundreds of properties razed by bushfires are still waiting to be cleared, wo weeks out from the June 30 deadline.

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Hundreds of properties razed by bushfires are still waiting to be cleared, two weeks out from the June 30 deadline.

Data provided to a Senate committee gives the clearest indication to date of the areas where the most progress had been made on the mammoth government-funded clean-up, following the devastating Black Summer bushfires.

It showed as of May 20, 331 of the 1195 properties registered to be cleared in Eurobodalla had been completed.

In Shoalhaven, 280 of the 772 properties registered had been cleared, while in Bega 209 of 917 properties had been cleared.

In Queanbeyan-Palerang, 11 of 144 properties had been cleared.

In the Snowy Valleys 81 of 472 properties had been cleaned up, while in Snowy Monaro none of the 119 registered properties had been cleared.

All up 1505 of the 5282 registered properties had been cleared as of May 20.

However, a Resilience NSW spokesman said chief contractor Laing O'Rourke remained on track to have most properties cleared by the original June 30 deadline.

He said another 1000 properties had been cleared since that information was provided to the Senate.

"Laing O'Rourke has cleared approximately 2500 properties and have crews working across the state clearing about 300 properties a week," the spokesman said on Friday.

"Coordinating a safe, efficient and timely clean-up effort across the state was always going to be challenging considering the magnitude of the job."

But Labor's spokesman for disaster and emergency management Murray Watt said the clean-up had "barely scratched the surface of some of the country's worst-affected regions".

"At the time of the fires, Scott Morrison promised immediate assistance. He has failed to deliver," Senator Watt said.

"It's now winter and bushfire victims are still living in caravans and temporary accommodation.

"These figures are more proof that bushfire victims have been forgotten."

The Commonwealth and NSW governments are footing the bill for the clean-up, with the bill expected to reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian acknowledged in January the June 30 deadline was ambitious.

"We hope the bulk of the clean-up will be done by the end of June. We know that's an ambitious target but we're confident most people will feel some type of relief, assistance by that time," Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

Laing O'Rourke was also required to hire local contractors to further boost bushfire-affected communities.

However the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements heard the government clean-up had been both a blessing and a curse.

Professor Sue Townsend, who lost her Tumbarumba home in the Dunns Road fire in January, said it took eight to 10 weeks to get an asbestos report to find out if their property was safe to return to.

"The government taking over the clean-up, on one hand it's a blessing but on the other hand has been an absolute nightmare in that it took forever to find out whether we had asbestos on our property," Professor Townsend said.

Reports have emerged that Laing O'Rourke was struggling to find local contractors equipped to deal with asbestos.

However Resilience NSW said it was wrong to suggest that had played a factor in the speed of the clean-up.

"Multi-agency building impact assessment teams, comprising the NSW Rural Fire Service, Fire & Rescue NSW, the Environment Protection Authority and Public Works Advisory were testing properties impacted by fire for hazardous materials, such as asbestos, very quickly after the fires," the spokesman said.

"The careful and safe removal of asbestos is a high priority and protecting the community and contractors during clean-up is always paramount. It is not correct to say that a shortage of licensed asbestos assessors or licensed facilities to accept asbestos waste has unduly slowed the clean-up process."

Coronavirus restrictions had some impact on community engagement, he said, but Laing O'Rourke continued to work directly with communities to register for clean-up.

"Community and contractor information sessions were replaced with online sessions, webinars and one-on-one meetings to ensure momentum was maintained after COVID restrictions were put in place," he said.

The bushfire royal commission is set to resume today.

  • Anyone who hasn't registered for clean-up should contact Service NSW on 13 77 88.

The aricle 'Hundreds of bushfire-affected properties still to be cleared, two weeks out from deadline' first appeared inThe Canberra Times

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