Defence Department promise to pay Williamtown water bills is ringing hollow

IN February this year the Department of Defence won itself some rare public plaudits over the Williamtown contamination fiasco when it agreed to cover three years of water bills for all residential users in the contaminated area.

Initially, the offer to cover residential water costs applied only to those who had been connected to mains water after the confirmation of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl or PFAS chemicals in 2015 meant they were no longer able to use the water bores they’d relied on to that point.

But after much lobbying from other householders, Defence agreed to widen the scheme to all red zone residents, acknowledging that those who were already connected to the town supply were also unable to take advantage of any water bores, and so deserved to be similarly compensated.

Commenting at the time, the president of the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group, Cain Gorfine, described it as “absolutely fantastic” news, saying it would come as a massive relief to “those residents of Cabbage Tree Road and Nelson Bay Road who were originally forgotten about in Defence’s water reticulation plan”.

Given the increasingly glaring national spotlight enveloping Defence over the fire-fighting foam scandal, the residents could be forgiven for taking the department at its word, and that their bills would be paid, and promptly.

Instead, furious red zone residents are finding overdue notices in their mail boxes, and at least one householder says he has a debt collector on his tail.

Hunter Water has been apologetic about the matter, saying that Defence is responsible for the payments even if bills have been sent to residents. It also says letters had been sent to red zone residents explaining the situation. But not all residents appear to have received the explanatory letters, and the existence of late notices and debt collectors appears to indicate that even if the upper echelons of Hunter Water are aware of the arrangement, it does not seem to have filtered down to the section responsible for sending out the bills.

Given the time that has elapsed since the announcement in February, both organisations would seem to have had enough time to co-ordinate their efforts.

Once again, the red zone residents have been given the short end of the stick in the form of yet another financial worry on top of an already awful situation.

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