East side resident fears sewer could lead to smaller blocks, social problems

But the Murray Bridge council has dismissed prominent resident Jerry Wilson's claims as "speculation".

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A septic tank inspection program could lead Murray Bridge’s east side to lose its unique character, a prominent local resident fears.

Residents of Riverglades, Avoca Dell and surrounding areas received a letter from the Murray Bridge council about a month ago, saying an inspector would come and check out their wastewater systems.

The council wanted to gather enough information to decide whether a communal sewer system would be a better solution than the old, often poorly maintained septic tanks and soakage trenches on that side of the river.

Then came a second letter.

This one was from Jerry Wilson, a businessman and former councillor.

“Once a sewer system is installed ... the council will (likely) rezone us to a residential area that will include units, flats and very small blocks,” he claimed.

“The housing trust does not build in areas that don’t have access to sewers, so we could get a housing trust area on our side of the river.”

Those suggestions have since been disputed by the council – more on that below.

Mr Wilson argued that regular pump-outs would be a better solution than building an SA Water sewer, which would be dreadfully expensive, or a council-run scheme.

He urged residents to contact councillors to try and stop the plan.

“Let’s keep our east side/Riverglades as a great place to live,” he said.

'I've never met anybody who doesn't love it here'

Blue wrens hopped about on the lawn as Jerry Wilson looked out over the Riverglades wetland from his verandah.

He moved here decades ago, when Mobilong Prison was built close to his old place at Rocky Gully.

Now he was in an idyllic spot, tranquil and green – and he was clear about his desire for the neighbourhood to keep its present character.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to realise what (the council is) talking about: infill,” he said.

“Once you get that you get units, flats, housing trust properties.”

“Nobody” on the east side wanted units or flats to be built nearby, he said.

He implied that higher housing density could lead to social problems: “how often do you see a police car over here?”

Besides, past experience had taught him sewers were not cheap: “they charge you to go by, then to hook up, then you’ve got to pay quarterly”.

It would be more cost-effective for the council to regularly service people’s existing septic systems, he said, something that already happened in some other towns.

He was not asking residents to “hold banners or go marching down the street”, he said; he just wanted to make them aware of the possible consequences of a communal system.

Council is not committed to anything yet, acting CEO says

The council’s acting chief executive officer, Heather Barclay, disputed Mr Wilson’s claims.

Yes, the need to accommodate Murray Bridge’s increasing population was one motivating factor behind the septic tank inspection program, she said – “we’re growing as a township”.

The need to protect the environment was another.

“That doesn’t mean council will proceed with a (communal) scheme,” she said.

At this stage, it simply wanted to gather enough information to make an informed decision.

“I wouldn’t like to speculate on what the suggestions, options or recommendations (from the inspector) might be,” she said.

“It depends what is the best way forward financially, strategically and for the community.

“I don’t think anybody is wedded to anything at this point in time.”

She said there was no evidence to back up Mr Wilson’s suggestions about block sizes or housing trust properties.

Asked specifically whether a communal wastewater scheme would lead to smaller block sizes in future developments, or changed zoning rules for existing properties, she said “that’s someone speculating”.

She promised that the community would be kept informed with more letters, or community meetings if necessary.

She expected a report on the situation would be presented to councillors at a meeting in April or May.