JIMNA FIRE TOWER – SUBMISSION TO DAF BY LOCAL GROUP

JIMNA FIRE TOWER – SUBMISSION TO DAF BY LOCAL GROUP

Category : General News

JIMNA FIRE TOWER WOOD PROBLEM GETS A WOOD SOLUTION

A crucial meeting was held on Wednesday 7 December 2016 to define the content of the Jimna Forest Action Group Incorporated’s (JFAGI’s) submission to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) regarding options for the future of the heritage listed Jimna Fire Tower (JFT).

The meeting was held at the Caboolture office of Wood Research and Development (WRD) and was hosted by Mr. Dan Tingley Senior Wood Technology Structural Engineer and Mr. Stephen Richards Senior Project Manager (WRD). It was also attended by Mr. Jim Burgess Area Manager Forest Industries, Mr. Albert Kello Senior Project Officer (DAF), Mr. Leo Talty JFAGI Advisor and Mr. Dave Wright Sec. JFAGI.

Central to the discussion was the evaluation of the long held JFAGI advice that the JFT needed to have a steel core structure constructed within the existing tower to address structural and stabilizing requirements, meet public safety regulations and to allow public access consistent with a self funded tourist destination.

The recently circulated Jimna Fire Tower Level II Condition Report prepared by WRD for DAF and dated 30 June 2016 provided cost estimates based around three main options which in brief were:
• Option 1 – restore without public access
• Option 2 – restore with public access
• Option 3 – deconstruct whilst retaining the cabin intact

After being briefed on the durability, the structural qualities compared with steel, and the cost competiveness of timber structures being built around the world today (some much higher than the JFT), the JFAGI contingent was soon convinced that an all wood restoration of the JFT was a viable solution.

Further discussion regarding public access, maintenance, public safety, building time frame, heritage value retention and the fact that a modified staircase built to Australian Standards would in fact enhance the structural integrity of the JFT, confirmed option 2B ticked all JFAGI boxes, including a people loading limit of 60 at any one time.

Agreement was reached with DAF to allow WRD to use the findings in the WRD report to assist JFAGI in the preparation of its submission for the future of the JFT to DAF by the required date 16/12/2016. It is only after the expert commentary delivered at this memorable meeting by Mr. Dan Tingley and Mr Stephen Richards that JFAGI is confident that there is a feasible solution to the restoration of this Aussie Icon.

JFAGI has no hesitation in publicly supporting Option 2B in the WRD report and can only hope that our local, State and Federal politicians along with their engineering advisors take the time to understand this new information and seek bipartisan support for redevelopment funding of this national treasure. The possibility of commercial, private and public contribution to funding should also be investigated.

JFAGI’s Recommendation

As a result of both the public consultation process hosted by DAF at Jimna on Wednesday 16 November and WRD’s briefing on Wednesday 7 December 2016, JFAGI recommends that DAF adopts Option 2B as the basis for a sustainable long term solution for the Jimna Fire Tower.

Heritage Listing

1. The basis for the tower’s heritage listing remains unchanged, viz.:
a. The place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places. – As the tallest tower in Queensland, and constructed using three poles, the Jimna fire tower is the finest example of a three-legged timber fire tower.
b. The place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons – Jimna fire tower is valued by the community as the tallest fire tower in Queensland, for the views available from the top of the fire tower, and for its construction by a father and son team.
c. The place has a special association with the life and work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history – Jimna fire tower is important for its association with Arthur Leis, who was influential in the design and construction of fire towers in Queensland from the late 1950s to the early 1990s.

2. Of the options considered by DAF and detailed in the WRD Condition Report, only Options 1 and 2 are compliant. Option 3 will result in the tower being removed from the Heritage Register.

3. Option 2 is the most compliant option as it maintains full functionality, especially public access.

4. The Tower is a national icon, being the tallest three legged wooden fire tower in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere. It has been judged by Queensland Government Survey to be the most unique of its kind.

Commercialisation

5. Jimna Tower sits on State Land bounded by a plantation lease on three sides and the Kilcoy-Murgon gazetted road on the fourth. During the consultation meeting on 16/11/2016 DAF raised no objection to the suggestion that this small portion of State Forest land may be capable of being leased in its own right as part of a long term solution to retain, refurbish and commercialise visitor access.

6. DAF also confirmed at that meeting that Option 2 was specifically included in the WRD Condition Report because it allowed for commercialisation of the asset. This option is the only one of the three considered that has the potential to generate a financial return on the Government’s investment.

7. Historic records confirm the tower is an important tourist asset attracting in excess of 30,000 visitors a year when public access was an option and tourism promotion virtually nonexistent.

8. By its proximity, the tower adds significant value to Jimna as a tourist/weekender destination as it is close to the recently upgraded Peach Trees camping ground ($1million upgrade) and numerous dedicated walking and 4WD trails in the Jimna State Forest.

9. If DAF adopts Option 2B and restores the asset in line with the Government’s heritage obligations, JFAGI would be prepared to enter into a commercial lease agreement for a trial period of two years at a nominal fee. In return, JFAGI would:
a. manage the tower as a tourism asset;
b. retain a dedicated and auditable accounting for the tower’s operations;
c. handle the day to day maintenance and operation of the tower and base camp ground as an adjunct to its Visitor Information Centre in Jimna; and
d. gather benchmark visitor and tourism data to enable DAF to better understand the commercial viability of the tower and underpin any tender for lease of the asset into future years.
In effect, JFAGI would take over and manage the asset as part of an informed and co-ordinated approach which would transition the tower from a forest asset to a tourism drawcard. Based on past visitor numbers, JFAGI believes the tower can be self funding and is prepared to provide the short term stimulus needed to prove this point.

Ongoing Financial Cost

10. WRD’s representatives confirmed at the briefing session on 7/12/2016 that when properly constructed and maintained, timber structures are more than a match for steel and concrete, have a history of longevity (some over 1000 years old) and can and do last for centuries. Both Options 1 and 2 redress some of the inherent problems in the original design (e.g. by creating gaps between the main pole frame and the concrete base supports of the tower to reduce moisture penetration and by inserting more bracing to reduce stress). Both options also utilise significant expert knowledge on wood preservation and structural design techniques that will reduce the incidence and need for significant outlays like those faced by DAF in the current exercise.

11. These two options include the use of fumigants to control wood decay. The Condition Report confirms that these will be deployed as rods inserted throughout the structure. During the briefing session with WRD on 7/12/2016, Dan Tingley confirmed these rods will need to be replaced over time and the estimated annualised cost of replacement is less than $1,000 per annum.

12. The only other maintenance cost relates to the replacement of sections due to age and/or wear and tear. In this regard, apart from the standard maintenance techniques of the day carried out by the tower’s builder Arthur Leis and a more recent attempt to install anchor cables to stabilise the structure, there hasn’t been any significant maintenance undertaken on the tower since it was built in 1977. With this in mind and given the fact that Option 2B will cost around $800,000 to fully restore and upgrade the tower to current building standards with public access, this suggests that an amortised maintenance cost of something significantly less than $20,000 per annum would be required to maintain the tower into perpetuity. While DAF didn’t object to this reasoning during the public consultation meeting on 16/11/2016, it noted that government agencies don’t normally work this way (i.e. put aside an amount of budget each year to cover the contingent cost of major renovations).

13. As a worst case scenario, DAF can lease the asset after restoration to a non-profit organisation like JFAGI to operate as a tourism/community based asset and allocate an initial budget allocation of $20,000 per annum to be accumulated in a dedicated and auditable (JFAGI) account to offset future repairs and maintenance identified by the Lessee and approved by the Lessor (DAF). Any lease agreement can include the option that surplus funds generated out of public access are used for maintenance and repairs and if JFAGI is correct, the budgeted annual allocations will become redundant as the asset should become self funding.

Sighted and signed:

Rhonda Affoo
Chair
JFAGI

Bill Montgomery
President
JFAGI

David Wright
Secretary
JFAGI

Leo Talty
Advisor
JFAGI


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