Last-minute reprieve for Sunflower project

A council  grant worth $12,500 has been awarded to the group behind the Get Sunflowered project.

The grant is to ensure the Latrobe Valley-wide initiative can be delivered.

Headed by ReActivate Latrobe Valley and RMIT University’s office of urban transformations research, the project had been extended to 16 sites across the Valley.

The group was under the impression it already had council’s financial support to extend the project, having made a verbal request earlier this year.

But in what Councillor Dale Harriman described as “a case of crossed wires” regarding how and when the request was made, a last-minute proposal was passed on Monday night.

“My understanding is that the RMIT Get Sunflowered group were of the opinion this was in hand, then (they were) informed nothing had progressed,” Cr Harriman told fellow councillors.

He apologised for the lateness of the proposal and the absence of a council officer report, following queries from crs Graeme Middlemiss, Darrell White and Kellie O’Callaghan.

The three opposed the motion, but it was passed with mayor Michael Rossiter’s casting vote.

Cr Harriman said the late notice was due to a short window to seed all the sunflowers, along with the group’s reliance on a State Government grant.

“The organisation had made a presentation to us, we’ve seen how they have operated in the past,” Cr Harriman told The Express.

“And because it has been an award-winning program and has had a positive response, it was my view we needed to get it up and running rather than lose it.”

ReActivate Latrobe Valley co-director and RMIT academic Craig Douglas said the funding would go towards irrigation tools and equipment and essentially made the project ongoing.

He said council’s support accompanied a financial contribution from RMIT University, which would leverage a current State Government funding application for about $50,000.

“The project has a huge amount of support from the public and private sector and we have in-kind support in terms of equipment, goods, time and effort in the order of almost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mr Douglas said.

Council also approved the use of part of Morwell’s Ronald Reserve for a pilot sunflower nursery and a section of the former Morwell caravan park for a sunflower site.

Mr Douglas said if successful, the state funding would help build the nursery to grow sunflowers that would be sold at flower markets, testing the viability of a new industry in the Valley.

He said the group would have “found it very difficult to proceed with the project” across all proposed sites if council had not approved the $12,500 grant.

“It’s wonderful news to receive council’s support,” he said.