Goulburn-Murray Water has reached a decision about its occupational licence fee, which will now see newcomers pay a higher fee for structures next to rivers or lakes, while existing licence holders will continue paying a lower rate.
It follows a drawn-out dispute between G-MW and landowners at Kirwans Bridge near Nagambie, who opposed fee hikes for their use of Crown land adjacent to the river or lake.
Alan McLean, a Kirwans Bridge resident and co-ordinator of a local campaign against the increases, questioned what gave G-MW the right to levy a fee on landholders who "beautify, enhance, landscape" and otherwise maintained waterway banks while casual public users paid nothing.
“Where is the recognition of landholder input?" he said.
“The majority of landholders have been in the habit of delivering major landscape maintenance, mowing the margin land and generally enhancing the environment at their personal cost, at no expense to G-MW.
“No allowance or acknowledgement of this contribution has been given, and for two years landholders have been asking for this.”
Where previously landholders were facing fee increases in the thousands of dollars, existing landholders will continue paying $295 (plus GST) indefinitely with annual CPI adjustments.
New customers will pay $595 for a jetty, $595 for a boat ramp and may incur a $90 fee for foreshore landscaping, a fee Mr McLean said was unfair.
“In essence, anyone looking to buy a property will now be targeted,” he said.
“If any person inherits the title to a property, that person will be subject to the new G-MW arrangements, even if inheriting from a parent — and this is supposed to be fair?”
Responding to assertions only a select number of landholders in the area were told about the new occupational fee, G-MW's water storage services general manager Martina Cusack said all customers were notified.
“G-MW wrote to all customers with a jetty or boat ramp licence, inviting them to join a working group as part of a consultation process,” she said.
“Everyone who wanted to take part was able to join the group, which comprised 32 customers.
“G-MW has written to customers whose existing jetty and boat ramp licences are now being upheld.
“Customers with occupational licences have not been communicated with as there is no change to their licence.”
G-MW also supplied the legal basis for charging the new occupational licence fee under the Water Act 1989 — something Kirwans Bridge landholders had been requesting for an extended period.
G-MW did not respond to questions about how much money had been spent consulting with the community members who opposed the fees or whether or not existing landholders would pay the new fee in the future.
Mr McLean also said the land next to the waterway was public land enjoyed by casual users who paid nothing and occasionally left rubbish behind, which was left to local landholders to clean up and "pay for the privilege".