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Belongil court costs queried

BYRON Shire Council’s general manager, Graeme Faulkner, has been accused of keeping ratepayers in the dark over legal costs in the long-running battle with Belongil residents John and Anne Vaughan over beach erosion protection works.

In last week’s Byron Shire News, Mr Faulkner said that all council’s legal costs associated with the case now and in the future would be met by insurers – not ratepayers – except for a $12,500 excess incurred since June 29 last year.

But Ian Evans from the Byron Preservation Association said that Mr Faulkner appeared to have forgotten some facts.

 “Mr Faulkner has forgotten to mention that prior to taking out legal insurance which came into effect on June 29 last year, the council had already racked up legal costs of $281,423.38 in the Vaughan matter in the Land and Environment Court,” he said.

“It’s all there in the council’s annual report for 2008-09, section 9.1.

 “Mr Faulkner might usefully read this document before making further statements which have the effect of soothing those gullible souls in the community who think that you can mount such cases out of the petty cash tin.”

Last week a Land and Environment Court-approved agreement was reached between the council and the Vaughans.

Under the court-sanctioned agreement, the council will monitor, maintain and repair interim beach stabilisation works on its land in Manfred Street at Belongil Beach adjacent to the Vaughans’ property and will re-establish sand behind the existing geotech sandbags in line with its own development consent of November, 2001, to the height and shape of the dune before the major storm which triggered the court case.

Also under the agreement, the Vaughans are ‘entitled but not obliged to’ maintain and repair the geotech sandbag wall in front of their property.

Mr Faulkner said the outcome was not a ‘win’ for the Vaughans.

But John Vaughan disagreed.

“Of course it’s a win. What a joke for him to say it’s not,” Mr Vaughan said.

“I can also confirm that council has spent more than $280,000 in legal costs in this matter.”

 Mr Faulkner said the costs associated with the recent Land and Environment Court case on Belongil had been documented in the 2008/09 annual report and reports to council.

He said the annual report noted approximately $281,000 for all legal costs associated with proceedings relating to Belongil.

“A further $128,000 has been incurred in legal costs in the current financial year, however, they largely relate to work completed in 2008/09,” Mr Faulkner said.

“The majority of the costs relate to council’s injunction against rock dumping at Manfred Street.

“However, some of the costs relate to the recent 2001 consent claim against council, as well as various other claims made on behalf of other Belongil landowners since 2007 including threats of litigation.

“From 29 June 2009, all legal costs associated with issues relating to the recent Belongil case in Land and Environment Court have been meet by council’s insurers.”

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