Community & Business

19 June, 2024

Council investment labelled 'absolute disgrace'

Water recycling plant woes

Recycling plant setup.
Recycling plant setup.

by Aston Brown

More than one-million-dollars has been “wasted” on a water recycling plant at the Warwick saleyards that has never worked, The Town and Country Journal has found.

In 2020, the Southern Downs Regional Council purchased a water effluent treatment facility that it promised would reduce the saleyards truck wash’s town water consumption by up to 99%.

According to the then-mayor Vic Pennisi, the plant would recycle water used to clean heavy vehicles at the saleyards, “effectively creating a closed loop system” that by dramatically reducing water consumption, would ease the saleyards financial burden on ratepayers and drought-proof the truck wash.

“No longer reliant solely on town water and at the mercy of water restrictions, the new recycled water plant will ensure the truck wash can operate long term and during drought times,” Mr Pennisi said in a 2020 council press release. “It is fantastic to see this project come to fruition.”

But according to former saleyard coordinator, Bernie Brosnan, the recycling plant installed has never been operational due to mechanical failures. 

In 2020, SDRC set aside $625,000 to purchase the facility, $500,000 of which was secured with a Queensland government’s Building our Regions grant. By the following year official costs had risen to $830,000, and now stand at $948,000, according to budget papers.

But by March 2022 when Mr Brosnan left his role at the saleyards, including off-book expenses, he said the total cost exceeded $1.1 million.

Despite the price tag, he said the installed plant never worked because of it was not fit to recycle the truck wash's heavily contaminated water. “We (the saleyards) were very clear with what was required … it had to be a miscommunication between the [council] engineers when they issued the final tender documents, or they’ve been sold a lemon,” Mr Brosnan said.

“They (council engineers) had probably miscommunicated or misunderstood what was required to process the waste water.”

A council spokesperson said SRDC does have the ability to operate the water recycling plant but that it chooses not to because it's expensive to do so, contradicting the 2020 SDRC press release that suggested the plant would save money and be used no matter the weather. “The recycled water plant provides water security in times when water is scarce,” the spokesperson said in a statement in May. 

Mr Brosnan said the plant was intended to be used all year round to save water and reduce the truck wash’s impact on the nearby water treatment plant that was “forever having blockages” because of the run-off from livestock and grain trucks.  “It was for everyday use, it wasn’t just a back-up for drought times,” Mr Brosnan said.

Another source with knowledge of the project agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. The source confirmed the substance of Mr Brosnan's claims, and said the spending was an “absolute disgrace”.  “It’s been a complete waste of money,” they source said. 

The council purchased the plant from Brisbane-based company Envirocepts. In a statement, the company’s head engineer said the plant was left idle after its installation because the water entering the system wasn’t of “acceptable standard” to be processed.

According to the engineer, Envirocepts offered the council a contract to maintain the facility but it was not awarded, so the system ran as long as it could without maintenance. “It has now been 6 months with no word from the customer (SDRC), and we do not currently know the status of the system,” they said. 

Last week, an SDRC spokesperson claimed the water plant is operational but not currently in use.

Former-mayor Pennisi told The Town and Country Journal that, as far as he's aware, the project has been a "huge success".


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