At its Ordinary Monthly Meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Armidale Regional Council resolved to complete a heads of agreement plan for water pricing with the Costa Group. Following recommendations from council's water team it authorised council CEO Susan Law to sign the Heads of Agreement on behalf of council, but it did cause some debate.
A draft agreement has been developed between council and the Costa Group, which envisages the Elm Street tomato farm will switch from treated water from Guyra's supply, to untreated water taken from Malpas Dam once the Malpas-Guyra pipeline is complete.
The proposal is to provide treated water at the discounted rate for a period of two years, backdated from July 1 2018, to allow time for the tomato farm to investigate and develop their water treatment facilities.
Council CEO Susan Law said what was proposed by council's water staff was only to move Costa's to the water charges applicable to them.
In proposing the motion Cr Peter Bailey said it was important to understand that Costas was looking to put in its own treatment plant.
"That's why they're proposing to take untreated water for the farm, so they can begin that process," Cr Bailey said.
"I think it is appropriate that we encourage Costa to invest in their own plant and equipment, and to do that they must be able to buy water at a reasonable rate.
"I think the proposed rate is quite fair and reasonable. And as they are our second largest employer, and the largest employer in Guyra, I'd hate to send a signal that we weren't prepared to work with them."
Amendment motion defeated
Cr Dorothy Robinson immediately proposed an amendment to Cr Bailey's proposal. In part, it proposed council provide a subsidy for the installation of Costa's plant and equipment.
"Circumstances change when we go up to level three water restrictions. We really need to consider how those changed circumstances affect our decisions and policies." Cr Robinson said.
"In a situation of severe water stress, and this could continue for many months, water is precious and we don't want to run out. We've got to make sure this situation is fair for everybody.
"We have to assume that conserving water is our first priority and helping Costas access this untreated water is our second priority."
Cr Margaret O'Connor said as far as she could see, council was giving Costas a sizeable discount in their water on the same day as it was putting the rest of Armidale residents on Level 3 water restrictions.
Cr Robinson's amendment did not receive a majority vote and was defeated and subsequently Cr Bailey's original motion was resolved by council.
Council is encouraging use of untreated water by the tomato farm to take pressure off the Guyra town water facilities. The Guyra Water Treatment Plant is approaching its capacity limit, the pumps that transfer treated water to Guyra are undersized and the town's two reservoirs on Prisk Street are also too small to meet peak day requirements.
As the tomato farm uses 40-50 per cent of the water produced by Guyra WTP there is a considerable benefit in delaying infrastructure upgrades if the tomato farm can use untreated water from Malpas Dam instead of treated water from Guyra's system.