Lismore dairy co-operative Norco is defending its decision to rebuild its ice cream factory on the banks of the Wilsons River in Lismore, despite expectations the facility will flood again.
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Northern NSW dairy co-operative Norco makes plans for its future on a floodplain
Michael Hampson says Norco is confident it can pay down the debt it will be taking on for the rebuild.(ABC North Coast: Leah White)

Key points:
Norco says it will rebuild its ice cream factory in South Lismore to withstand another 14-metre flood
The company’s decision to rebuild on a floodplain has attracted some public criticism
The mayor of Lismore says the company’s decision to rebuild is vital for the future of the city

After months of uncertainly, Norco yesterday announced it would rebuild the badly damaged factory with $45 million in government grants and about $60 million of its own funds.

The company’s chief executive Michael Hampson said they would flood-proof the factory to above 14 metres, the height of the torrent that swept through the building on February 28.

Services such as electricity will be installed at 15 metres, and equipment will have the capacity to be raised up or moved to higher ground in the event of a flood.

“We all hope that this doesn’t happen of course, but we will be building in significant mitigation and resilience works to the site, not also for flood but for fire,” Mr Hampson said.

Community unsure about decision

The company’s plans have sparked discussions on ABC North Coast’s Facebook page about the wisdom of rebuilding on the floodplain.

“Great that it’s rebuilding and supporting local employment and other local businesses, but crazy to rebuild there as a lot of taxpayers’ money will wash away in the next major flood,” commenter Faye Smith said.

Terry Flatley said, “And $35 million of taxpayers’ money will be flushed down the river in the not so distant future. Relocation to its many holdings on the east coast could have preserved the jobs and maintained the industry.”

Commenter Steve Grace said another bad flood would put an end to more than the Norco factory.

“With all the talk about buyouts and relocation this decision, for that site, may turn out to be unwise,” he said.

Norco ruled out moving the factory to another site, estimating the cost would have been about $200 million.

Mr Hampson said the company was also relying on government flood mitigation strategies for the region based on research being carried out by the CSIRO.

Northern NSW dairy co-operative Norco makes plans for its future on a floodplain1
Norco milk supplier Graham Forbes is concerned the rebuild will not be good for the co-operative’s farmers.(ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)

Farmer concerns

Norco member and dairy farmer Graham Forbes said he hoped the cost of rebuilding the ice cream factory would not jeopardise other parts of the business.

“It’s probably not core business to an individual farmer like myself,” Mr Forbes said.

“We would hope that this doesn’t put any risk back on us farmers. We’ve lost a lot of money with the floods ourselves as well as what exposure Norco’s had.”

Mr Hampson said the ice cream arm of the business was a significant profit generator that underpinned good milk prices for its farmers.

He said the debt being taken on by the co-operative to cover the rebuild, the damage from the flood and loss of stock was more than $100 million, but the company was confident it could recoup the losses over time.

Staff reinstated

Mr Hampson said the factory would reinstate 140 full-time staff during the first phase of its rebuild.

Norco stood down 170 factory workers last month, after government funding to cover $8 million in wages came to an end.

Lismore mayor Steve Krieg said Norco’s decision to rebuild was critical to Lismore’s future.

“The knock-on effects of this decision will be felt all over the region,” he said.

“It’s a massive boost for everyone in the region.”

Bega’s Better Farms Program supports eligible dairy farmers’ by offering up to $1.1 million worth of financial grants each year.

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