Recovery in Emerald
This month, we’re dedicated to telling the stories of these towns hit by fires, cyclones and flooding, and reflecting on what we can learn from their experiences. As part of our research for the recently released paper, From Disaster to Renewal, we undertook a case study in Emerald, a Central Queensland town hit by multiple floods between 2008 and 2010. We check in with the Mayor of Emerald, Peter Maguire, to see how the recovery process has rolled out in his community.
Peter Maguire has a self-imposed rule in his role as the Mayor of Emerald, and one that has come from simple experience: Never go on holidays in December or January. A trip to Fiji in the summer of 2008 saw Peter away from his town at the time of a major flooding event, and wild weather in Fiji delayed him for three days from making it back home to attend to the needs of his community.
Now, he simply knows to hang around at the danger time in the central Queensland weather system, and he was certainly glad to be on hand when the town was inundated over two flooding events in December 2010 and January 2011.
“The big event at the end of December occurred when the Fairbairn Dam was already at capacity. It didn’t take long to find out we were in big trouble,” Peter says.
While the flooding took place on a devastating scale, he says the town was better prepared for handling the impact thanks to the freshness of the flooding ordeal in 2008.
“We were reasonably better at responding, because we were familiar with our disaster management plan and were much better at communicating than in 2008,” he says.“It was only three years since the previous event, but people understood better the likely consequences of this scale of flooding.”
For Emerald, the fact of past experience and the presence of several active resources companies in the region meant that immediate clean-up and recovery was fairly swift.
“The initial clean-up itself took a week,” Peter explains. “The exterior was taken care of rapidly, but then over 1,000 homes were flooded, and most of the industrial area, and a large proportion of the commercial businesses area flooded,” he says. “It impacts on the community, and the recovery phase is always a challenge.”
While the 2010/11 recovery response was helped markedly by the resources brought into play by mining entities, Emerald would face a different picture were a similar event to strike again.
“Now it’s different, we’ve had a down-size in the resources boom, which has affected businesses with a partial or total reliance on the sector,” Peter says.
Essentially ‘back on its feet’, the Emerald community had a recovery group actively operating for over twelve months, and it is still determining just what flood mitigation action will be taken for the future.
“We’ve had a couple of companies look at flood mitigation projects, and we have some funding from the state government Royalties for Regions scheme, but no firm decisions have been made – it’s still a work in progress,” Peter says.
While there is some frustration that another stormy summer looms and Emerald still lacks a new levy system or other safeguard, the community is still very much driving its own future planning.
“We’ve set up a flood focus group, with community representatives looking at different impacts, and there is also a flood plan management steering group for the whole shire,” Peter says.
“There are people who have been through these two successive floods and were affected by that,” Peter says. While Emerald hasn’t suffered markedly from a depleted population in the wake of the floods, the Emerald-born Mayor says he still sees scars among the population. “We all throw money at fixing infrastructure, but it also comes down to psychological welfare. People need a sense that their town is resilient,” he says.
“In the main, we have a higher local population here than transient, and when I was a young feller I remember the previous generations telling you about what they remembered happening in past decades.Ideally, we need to keep looking at where Emerald is built and what we can shape now,” Peter says.
“We’re still a work in progress, and you never stop planning. We’re now planning for the changing climate and a one in one hundred year event – it’s these that get people really thinking.”
You can download a full report on the case study in Emerald here. Don’t miss the upcoming release of our policy paper presenting a series of recommendations to all levels of Government on how we can successfully navigate through the recovery process, by subscribing to updates.