DISAPPOINTED: James Barclay at the Kingaroy Observatory.
DISAPPOINTED: James Barclay at the Kingaroy Observatory. Christian Berechree

Council accused of 'scaremongering' over tourism proposal

SOUTH Burnett Regional Council has been accused of "scaremongering” in its dealings with Bunya Mountains residents over an astro-tourism proposal.

A push to have the Bunya Mountains certified as an International Dark Sky Association park was voted down last night, November 22, at a community meeting attended by mayor Keith Campbell and councillor Gavin Jones.

James Barclay from Kingaroy Observatory was the driving force behind the Dark Sky initiative.

He was not invited to or informed about the meeting last night, and the outcome left him disappointed.

He said he did not even know about the community vote until he was contacted by The South Burnett Times on Friday morning, November 23.

"I find it very disheartening to hear this coming from the paper, whereas council have not bothered to contact me,” Mr Barclay said.

Cr Campbell said the council had no say as to whether Mr Barclay was present at the meeting as it was organised by the community.

"Council has not run any meetings in the Bunya Mountains,” he said.

"The onus was on the community. We were simply responding to the community.”

Mr Barclay, who regularly writes an astronomy column for the Times, was especially concerned his absence meant residents were unable to hear the full story about what the Dark Sky accreditation would entail.

He said residents were misinformed about what would be involved in the light management plan associated with Dark Sky accreditation, amounting to scaremongering on the council's part.

"They thought council would do a light management plan and it would tell them what they can and can't do with their lighting, and that is not the case,” Mr Barclay said.

"It has been blown out of proportion.

"The International Dark Sky Association guidelines clearly state that it is not set in concrete what you can and can't do. All the IDSA is saying is these are the suggested ways of maintaining your lifestyle by using proper shielded lighting, where the lights can be left on, but you shield them or face them down.”

Cr Campbell categorically denied accusations of scaremongering.

"I can guarantee from the conversations I had with some people that the allegations are false,” he said.

"I took particular care last night to speak to individuals and gained a view collectively.

"There was no inference of scaremongering. The allegation of scaremongering is a view of a person, not of the community.”

Cr Campbell said Mr Barclay was free to clear up any misconceptions he felt existed in relation to the Dark Sky proposal.

"By and large, it's up to Mr Barclay to correct, if he feels that he can present a case that's different to the understanding and perception of the people,” he said.

Cr Jones, who was present at the Bunya Mountains meeting, previously owned the Maidenwell Hotel and had past dealings with Mr Barclay when his observatory was located in Maidenwell.

Cr Campbell said Cr Jones relayed this experience at the meeting, but said this did not amount to influencing the decision of community members.

"My understanding is he expressed a comment from a personal experience he had when he was involved in business in Maidenwell, in relation to the interference of light from his premises to the observatory,” Cr Campbell said.

"There was no inference of denigrating the proponent, it was simply a comment from his own experience. I was very careful to obtain and get clarity of that view.”

Mr Barclay was present at a meeting on January 10, 2018, in the Bunya Mountains, where the proposal was initially discussed with representatives from South Burnett Regional Council as well as Western Downs Regional Council.

It is his view that any further meetings should have involved all relevant people.

"It's not right. Had they gone through the right channels, and had council called a proper meeting like they did on January 10, where we had everyone up there including all the supporters, they could have asked 'what are your concerns?'.”

Cr Campbell said he was supportive of the idea of a Dark Sky park, but would not go against the community's wishes.

Instead, he said the council-owned Boondooma Homestead would be considered as an alternative location.

Mr Barclay said he would support this idea.

"Boondooma Homestead is even darker than the Bunyas, it's a lot easier to get,” he said.

"The council owns the place and could get the light management plan done very quickly.”

Cr Campbell said it was his view the light management plan should be Mr Barclay's responsibility.

"The only reference that was made was the community members felt it was the proponent that should be preparing the light management plan, rather than it being loaded onto the budget of the council,” he said.