Peter Driscoll’s comment highlights why so much inaction has occurred …

Comment on LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure by Alex Nelson.

Peter Driscoll’s comment highlights why so much inaction has occurred with flood mitigation and management of the Todd River through Alice Springs during the period of time almost equivalent to self-government of the NT. Essentially the NT Government’s attitude (under CLP rule) was that the single most effective measure to counter flooding of the Todd River would be the construction of a flood mitigation dam in the hills upstream of Alice Springs.
Two locations were proposed during the 1980s; the first was at the Old Telegraph Station, the second at Junction Waterhole further north. Both sites were strenuously resisted by Arrernte traditional owners concerned about the impact the dams would have on sacred sites.
Technically a “dry dam” for flood mitigation would be the most effective measure against large floods but this would require extensive re-negotiation with TO’s who undoubtedly remain wary in light of the bitter diviseness this matter has generated in the past. The project would stand a much better chance of success, I think, if any suggestion of permanent inundation for recreational purposes (as insisted upon by the NT Government in the past) is ruled out completely.
But that still leaves us with the need for dealing with localised flooding of the Todd River through town and for adequate management of it at all times.
Currently the Todd River, for most of its length in town, is at or below the natural bed level of the sand. This is evident (as Charlie Carter pointed out on ABC radio a few days ago) by observing the bases of old river gum trees which predate the existance of Alice Springs – many of them now sit well above the natural bed level of the river at the time of their germination with significant root exposure. River gums never grow naturally with their roots exposed. This is particularly evident just downstream of the Wills Terrace Causeway, which was extensively excavated just six years ago. This same stretch of the river is now slated as Stage 3 for the current sand-mining of the Todd River by the Alice Town Council, as stated by Greg Buxton on ABC radio!
There is also photographic evidence, too – the best example I know is a photo taken by Rev. John Flynn from the top of Meyers Hill in 1926 with a view towards what is now the CBD. The riverbed and west bank adjacent to the Civic Centre has not changed in almost 80 years.
Equally I know of a photo held at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden taken during the drought of the 1960s, which views Olive Pink’s flora reserve from across the Todd River. Again, the riverbed and bank adjacent to the OPBG has not changed.
In the 1950s my father regularly camped in the Todd River adjacent to May’s Guest House (now the Institute for Aboriginal Development on South Terrace), where the riverbank is quite high and steep. It was so in the 1950s and remains the same today, it hasn’t changed.
The only part of Charlie Carter’s letter I disagree with is where he states The Alice Springs Flood Plain Management Plan 1996 concluded that the Tuncks Road causeway has no effect on the bed level of the Todd River. That’s clearly not the case now, where there is an obvious drop in the river bed on the downstream side – so much so, that just a little further downstream it is easy to observe the concrete capping that marks the position of the Palm Valley gas pipeline for the old power station. This was constructed in 1983, and the concrete capping was buried beneath the sand level at that time. Now it is exposed.
Only the Schwarz Crescent causeway shows no impact on the Todd riverbed, yet that is where the Council has, and is, removing sand from the Todd!
Finally, the cause of sand and silt buildup in the Todd River through the town is regularly attributed to the presence of exotic grasses, especially buffel and couch. While these grasses are most undesirable from an environmental perspective, they clearly are not the main cause (if any) of the perceived buildup of sand and silt. These grasses dominate along many of the rivers and creeks in the Central Australian region yet nowhere else have they caused any major flow restrictions; for some reason, they only do so (according to many) within the confines of the town’s urban area.
Strangely, that’s the only stretch of the river where we have all these causeways, too.

Alex Nelson Also Commented

LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure
Perhaps I can answer your query, Hal – in short, yes, the removal of the sand at the junction of the Todd River with Chinaman’s Creek (yes, that was its name) at the north entrance to Heavitree Gap was unnecessary. This same area was sprayed with Roundup to kill the couch and buffel grass all the way to Taffy Pick Crossing and the sand was excavated only 10 years ago (I took photographs). It was a complete waste of public money.
For a good example of where to see the effect of unimpeded water flow of the Todd River, it’s worth checking the river bank adjacent to the Arid Zone Research Institute. You’ll see an extensive indentation carved into side of the river with a sheer drop of three metres; it looks rather like a miniature version of the Great Australian Bight. This feature was caused by the flood of 1988, when the river water carved out a chunk of land (at least in the hundreds of tons of soil, perhaps more) and completely swept it away.
All the trees and grasses on the side of the river bank did nothing to prevent that erosion, they all vanished downstream. Shortly after that flood, when I went exploring out that way to see what had happened (I was living nearby at the CSIRO Field Station at the time, now the Centre for Appropriate Technology) I observed trees and grasses teetering on the edge of that bank, with partial exposure of the roots dangling metres above the riverbed (again I took photographs). This stretch of the riverbank is the largest natural sudden change of the land I’ve seen occur anywhere in this region’s vicinity.
The point here is that when there is a major flow of the river, piles of sand and sediment held together by grasses will simply be swept away.
It’s also worth noting that the slope of the riverbed through town between the Charles Creek junction at Schwarz Crescent and Heavitree Gap to the south is a drop of 10 metres. Thus the impact of floodwaters backing up at Heavitree Gap itself has a minimal effect on the town further upstream.


LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure
Dealing first with Hal Duell’s comments, the Taffy Pick Crossing (originally the Casino Causeway) was constructed in 1981, and opened in July that year simultaneously with the opening of the Federal Hotels Casino. Federal Hotels and the NT Government jointly funded the construction of the Casino Causeway.
Amongst the earliest critics of the new causeway was Taffy Pick in a letter published in the Centralian Advocate in early December 1982 – three months later the flood of March 1983 swamped the foyer of the casino and ripped out an 11 metre wide chunk of the causeway.
A study was undertaken from 1984 onwards by the NT Government for the construction of a full size bridge to replace the Casino Causeway; and in 1986 the NT Government announced a $5.7 million project for the reconstruction and re-alignment of roads at the north entrance of Heavitree Gap and South Terrace, including a large roundabout at the Gap, re-alignment of South Terrace, a new bridge downstream from (and replacing) the Casino Causeway, a roundabout on the east bank of the Todd linking Stephens Road and Barritt Drive with the bridge, and extension of Stephens Road to link with Sadadeen and Undoolya. Only the roundabout at Heavitree Gap has been built, and that was a separate project in 1994 that was part of the NT Government’s plans for the rejuvenation of Alice Springs (which in itself sounds awfully repetitive, doesnt’ it?).
The NT Government transferred responsibility for the Casino Causeway to the Alice Springs Town Council in early 1987. Following the flood of April 1988, the mayor Leslie Oldfield begged the NT Government to urgently replace the Casino Causeway with a properly constructed bridge.
The NT Government has long publicly recognised that the Casino Causeway exacerbates flooding of properties by the river for a distance of 400m upstream from the causeway but has never done anything to resolve this problem of its own making.
To my knowledge and recollection, there have been four major occasions in the past 30 years or so when sand has been removed from the Todd River within the urban area. The first was in the early 1980s but was suspended in 1982 following assessment by the NT Conservation Commission that showed that sand removal was having an adverse effect on the river gums.
The second was in August / September of 1988, when the Department of Transport and Works removed sand that had accumulated next to the Casino Causeway. This was only a few months after the flood that year and coincided with the Flynn by-election campaign, during which the effect on flooding by that causeway was a major concern of voters in that electorate. (The CLP polled last and Labor topped the poll on that occasion, the only time this has happened in an urban electorate of Alice Springs. The CLP’s preferences helped NT Nationals candidate Enzo Floreani to win).
The next major sand extraction that I recall was a decade ago, when the Alice Springs Town Council was granted $400,000 for the extraction of sand from Heavitree Gap to Taffy Pick Crossing, which also included extensive spraying of couch and buffel grass. This was a part of the NT Government’s Alice in 10 project; and this particular project was meant to be the first stage of cleaning up the river all the way to the top of town. It never progressed beyond that first stage; and (as predicted on the ABC by both my father and myself) this was a complete waste of money.
The last major sand extraction from the Todd River occurred in 2006, in a project funded by the Martin Labor Government. This involved an upgrading of the Wills Terrace Causeway and extraction of sand downstream along the CBD, which cost (from memory) $600,000.
So now we have yet another publicly funded program of removal of sand from the bed of the Todd River, based on utterly spurious documentation upon which the Alice Springs Town Council relies to justify the expenditure of public monies.


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Inquiry into fracking: Giving it the green light?
@ Hal Duell (Posted December 15, 2017 at 10:56 am): There have been several proposals and experimental projects for tapping into tidal power around Australia, including the northern coastline.
In the mid 1990s experimental work for harnessing tidal power in the Apsley Strait (which divides Melville and Bathurst Islands of the Tiwi islands) was conducted in a joint project by the Northern Territory University (now CDU) and the Power and Water Authority. Nothing seems to have come of it.
If I recall correctly, the Member for Nelson, Gerry Wood, suggested more recently that Apsley Strait (which is directly north of Darwin) be investigated for harnessing tidal power.
It does seem to be an obvious location for such a facility.


Inquiry into fracking: Giving it the green light?
The release of the draft final report of the inquiry into unconventional onshore fracking in the NT comes just two days after the 50th anniversary of Project Gasbuggy in New Mexico, USA.
On December 10, 1967, the US Atomic Energy Commission detonated a 29 kiloton underground nuclear explosion to test this method for fracking for natural gas.
It was the first of three such tests conducted in the US which was a part of a wider program (called Operation Plowshare) to find civil engineering uses for atom bombs.
Project Gasbuggy was of direct relevance to Central Australia because great expectations were held of this method for potential use in the new Mereenie gas field.
In fact, Magellan Petroleum had already applied to the US and Australian Atomic Energy Commissions for a licence to conduct nuclear fracking in The Centre.
Hopes were dashed when the gas extracted from the test sites consistently proved too contaminated with radioactive particles to be safely used; and the new method of hydraulic fracturing helped bring to an end the research program of Operation Plowshare in the mid 1970s.
Of course, it is unconventional onshore hydraulic fracking that now lies at the heart of the current controversy.


Keith Lawrie Flats – people have had enough!
The Keith Lawrie Flats came under pressure for demolition in February 2004 from neighbouring residents and then Member for Araluen, Jodeen Carney. This story was part of a feature report about the problem of petrol sniffing in Alice Springs.
The Minister for Housing, John Ah Kit, stated the NT Government had no intention of demolishing existing public housing stock, and in March 2004 announced this block of flats would be a part of the government’s multi-million dollar “urban renewal program.”
I was suspicious of the initial report about the Keith Lawrie Flats as it was only three years after the former CLP government had announced its intention to demolish the Cawood Court complex and replace it with house blocks and a retirement village.
The effect of this approach was obvious – it would reduce the quantity of available housing in town at a time of existing short supply and so contribute to driving up the price of real estate.
The CLP lost office before this could happen, and in late 2001 the new Labor government (specifically Housing Minister Kon Vatskalis) reversed that decision in favour of the CLP’s former practice of selling rundown public housing to developers to refurbish the flats and release them for private ownership. Consequently the Cawood Court complex became the City Edge Apartments and sold rapidly when released for sale.
I had a few letters published in the Centralian Advocate (and got some haughty responses) early in 2004 about this matter. The Keith Lawrie Flats were later shut down for quite some time. I took photos of the abandoned complex about January 2006, by that time over-run with weeds.
Later that year the units were reduced in number from 32 to 22, were extensively renovated and (as I recall) were to be closely monitored and controlled to avoid the problems that afflicted them previously.
The stories I have on file about this don’t reveal the public expense involved but sadly it’s apparently entirely wasted as this complex has reportedly reverted to slum conditions again, effectively within a decade.
At least some of the blame for this must accrue to the previous Country Liberals government because the flats surely can’t have declined so precipitously in just the one year of the current government.
In 2004 I suggested the Keith Lawrie Flats should be sold, renovated and released for private sale. The Housing Minister, John Ah Kit, wrote to me saying the government was reluctant to do this because of the adverse impact on waiting times for public housing.
Given the return of the anti-social behaviour at the Keith Lawrie Flats and other complexes, maybe the NT Government just has to bite the bullet on this one and offload these properties for sale.


Pollution? High fliers get it easy.
While it’s preferable that dumping of fuel in the sky is undesirable for a range of reasons, this incident is small beer compared to the overall impact of aviation emissions in the atmosphere and its substantial well-documented contribution towards climate change.
This is clearly evident from the DIRD’s statistics quoted above – if 0.01 per cent of “of fuel used by the aviation industry each year is released into the atmosphere” through dumping then the obverse suggests up to 99.99 per cent of aviation fuel is eventally combusted and emitted as various greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides (which generate ozone at lower height levels), water vapour and other contaminants, all of which contribute to atmospheric warming.
Some more information is provided by DIRD on its web page “Aviation Emissions – Managing the carbon footprint of Australian aviation”.(https://infrastructure.gov.au/aviation/environmental/emissions/).
Another website (https://www.quora.com/) provided some interesting answers in 2015 on the question “What is the impact of dumping fuel by aircraft in the atmosphere?”
One answer states that vaporised dumped aviation fuel contributes to “emissions of atmospheric pollutants such as benzene  and ground-level ozone” but another contributor vividly points out that “it’s a fart in a hurricane compared to all of the carbon being pumped into the atmosphere” and “focusing efforts on fuel dumping would be akin to checking the pedicure on a gunshot victim.”
Others point out that vapours from fuel spills by motorists at petrol stations in total far outweigh the effect of air pollution from aviation fuel dumping.


Pay up, and you’ll make the news, inquiry is told
Manipulation of public opinion by the mainstream media in the Northern Territory is a time-honoured practice that dates back more than quarter of a century, and possibly further.
I awoke to this in the NT election campaign of August 1997 when a Murdoch-owned newspaper published on the day before the election a front page story warning that the vote was too close to call.
This was patent rubbish but it triggered a vague recollection that I’d seen something similar before; and as I’d been heavily involved in the two previous NT election campaigns I checked the back copies I’d filed away.
Sure enough, the same trick had been played with both front page stories and editorials published one day prior to the election days of June 4, 1994 and October 26, 1990, warning of the closeness of the polls. The technique was employed in Alice Springs and worked in favour of the ruling party.
The method wasn’t used in 2001; instead the election campaign began with a front page story stating the CLP was a red hot favourite to win – no prizes for guessing what happened on August 18 that year!
It was this pattern of reporting during the 1990s that alerted me to the value of the (literally) paper trail that has been laid by print media in the NT over the decades.


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