Homes destroyed by bushfires will be cleaned up under a state and federal program that prioritises local contractors, at no cost to those affected.
State Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Lisa Neville, made the announcement of a 50-50 arrangements between the State and Federal governments to invest $75 million into the immediate clean up of properties and public buildings in communities.
The clean-up applies to insured and uninsured residents and there will be no cost to property owners.
“This will see all residential, commercial and public buildings that have been destroyed, or severely damaged beyond repair, being able to be cleaned up on behalf of the state without cost to residents or communities,” Ms Neville said.
“This is a method used in the Black Saturday and Wye River fires. It means that we can deal with very challenging clean ups as efficiently, safely and as quickly as possible, because it’s not until we can do these clean ups that people can really think and make some decisions about rebuilding their properties and their communities.
“No cost, I want to really repeat to people, this will see no cost to people whether you are insured or not insured.”
Ms Neville said 396 residential properties and 614 outbuildings have been destroyed across Victoria following initial assessments, which are almost complete.
The $75 million Victorian bushfire clean-up program will be led by Grocon, appointed by the State Government. Local contractors will be prioritised to demolish, remove and safely dispose of building materials either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
Local contractors can register their interest with Grocon at www.grocon.com.au.
“We have an expectation on them (Grocon) to use local contractors to rebuild,” Ms Neville said.
“That’s really important, we want to see this money go back into local communities, to help support those local contractors and businesses and help support the economies of these small towns that have been so affected.”
East Gippsland Shire Council, who will lead the recovery process, has welcomed the announcement.
Mayor, Cr John White, said the clean-up program was what the community and council had been advocating for, so the recovery could start progressing.
“This clean-up will give our communities, and most importantly impacted residents, some certainty on this vital stage of recovery,” Cr White said.
Cr White said engaging local contractors in the clean up had been a priority.
“It is incredibly important for morale, families, communities and our economy that local contractors and businesses are a key part of the recovery and reconstruction process,” Cr White said.
“By prioritising local contractors and businesses in recovery works as instigated by government will ensure local employment opportunities. This sends a strong message of support to bushfire affected communities, and that our recovery will be community-led.”
The mayor said having the clean-up in the hands of professional, experienced contractors would also help alleviate the desire for residents to want to start the clean-up themselves.
“It’s not worth running the risk of exposing yourself or your family to some of the dangers that may be in the rubble, including asbestos. These contractors, working with government and council, will clean and dispose of all waste material safely,” Cr White said.
“Now, the principal contractor and government must do everything in their power to ensure there is no time lag between this announcement and the clean-up starting. Residents in many of our communities are ready.”
The Insurance Council of Australia has assured the Victorian Government that insurers will not profit from the clean-up program. All savings accrued from not having to pay those with damaged property will be directly passed on to bushfire-affected policy holders, as part of the assurance made to the government.
Cpuncil’s General Manager Bushfire Recovery, Stuart McConnell, said council officers have been planning for the secondary assessment stage, and this work will start later in the week in communities cleared by the Incident Controller.
A secondary assessment is an in-depth assessment of how a property has been impacted and includes assessing the safety of sites and/or partly damaged buildings, if septic tank systems have been compromised, emergency orders, and identifying hazards such as asbestos. This work will also potentially assist property owners’ insurance claims.
“You will start to see teams of people in communities. We have secured resources from outside East Gippsland to make this process as quick as possible,” Mr McConnell said.
“Our secondary assessment teams include a building surveyor, environmental health officer and personal support.
“We are working with other agencies who may need to conduct assessments to coordinate property inspections at the same time. We are conscious of not impeding on impacted residents on multiple occasions for site assessments and placing extra pressure on landowners.”
“We will liaise with homeowners wherever possible, and all staff will be required to enter private property. They will carry identification indicating their need to be on site. There may be instances where notices are attached to fence/structures (where possible), notifying there are hazards present on site.”
Council will work with the principle contractor and the Environment Protection Authority about where and how the clean-up waste is disposed of.