It's been debated numerous times over the past five years but now the council has made a final decision on its irrigation farm.
Deputy Mayor Peter Walker told the most recent council meeting that everyone had "had a gutful" of the long running process, while a speaker accused the organisation of treating her group "unfairly."
The land, stretching from Gorman Road at North Goulburn over to Taralga Road, was dubbed surplus to needs in 2015. The upgrade of the city's wastewater treatment plant several years later meant the property was no longer needed to irrigate highly treated effluent from the facility. Instead, the material could be discharged to the river and next year, to some of the city's sporting fields and parks.
But as Cr Peter Walker told his colleagues, the process to decide the property's future had been complex and prolonged.
"In my opinion, everyone has had a gutful regarding the way this has been going around and around," he said.
"One minute we're going to lease it, the next we're not. We have a lady here making all the accusations under the sun, which are almost defamatory..."
Expressions of interest (EoI) in sale, lease and public private partnerships have been considered for part of the land on several occasions. A 2015 round wasn't accepted and the land was kept for continuing operations until the wastewater treatment plant was commissioned.
After that occurred in 2018, the council decided to lease 64 hectares to Goulburn Campdraft and Riding for Disabled for an equine facility. In 2019 it called for EoIs in a public private partnership for 404 hectares between Gorman Road and Murrays Flat Road, on the eastern side of the railway line.
As Mayor Bob Kirk explained at the time, he wanted a use that would have "long-term economic, social and environmental benefits" for Goulburn.
Now he and other councillors say this will not be achieved with any of the expressions of interest received.
They were from Narambulla Investments Pty Ltd for cattle breeding, fodder and potato seed production; Growing @ Goulburn for agricultural and research purposes and an aim to make Goulburn carbon neutral; and from ARW Multigroup for cropping and fertilisation. Utilities director Marina Hollands said all three depended on at least some continuation of effluent irrigation.
"The expression of interest process has strongly indicated that there is no current ideal best use for use of this land for the wider good of the community," Mrs Hollands reported.
She believed the agricultural proposals did not give a long-term economic, social and environmental benefit.
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Councillors agreed and decided:
- To decline all three expressions of interest;
- Contact all three parties to seek lease proposals for 404ha on the eastern side of the railway line, without effluent irrigation, for five years. It will include a clause that the council can break the lease with six months' notice if rezoning for rural residential land is progressed sufficiently. Land at 534 Taralga Road will be included in the lease on an annual basis;
- To investigate the 404ha for 10ha rural residential lots;
- To put up for sale 124ha of flood prone land on the western side of the rail line.
Cr Peter Walker pushed the motion, saying it was important to "move on."
"We don't need the stuff that goes under water hanging around," he said.
"The other land is good land. Let someone else lease it. I hope the discussion is along the lines of improving fencing and pastures."
Mayor Bob Kirk agreed there was "no silver bullet."
"Ultimately I hope we'll achieve the best and most beneficial outcome for the community with this decision on redevelopment of land to the north, the lease to RDA and Goulburn Campdraft and retention of this section for future residential subdivision," he said.
But Growing@Goulburn representative and Bungonia woman, Julia McKay accused the council during open forum of favouring Narambulla and ARW above hers and lacking transparency in the process.
"The way in which (the council) has dealt with the farm simply doesn't pass the pub test," she said.
Ms McKay claimed her group's was the only complying bid because it was a public private partnership, not a lease, as the others had proposed. It involves partnerships with universities, the CSIRO, institutional investors and others to make Goulburn carbon neutral by creating carbon credit units through a federal government program.
She accused councillors of now retreating from their original recommendation and threatened to take the matter further if Growing@Goulburn was excluded from the process.
Mayor Bob Kirk rejected Ms McKay's accusations and warned her she would lose her right to speak if she continued. The council has declined to comment further on the matter.
However the final recommendation invited all three parties to lodge an expression of interest in lease of the 404ha for five years. Staff had recommended that only Narambulla and ARW be invited to do so.
After the meeting, Ms McKay said the removal of effluent irrigation had made the lease "less interesting" but her group, which comprised institutional investors, would likely make an offer.
Cr Andrew Banfield declared a pecuniary conflict of interest in the item due to his employment and family association with Narambulla, a Divall family company.
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