Port Stephens mayor Ryan Palmer has provided renewed hope for Williamtown home owners impacted by fire foam contamination by forecasting an increase in property values to levels enjoyed prior to the PFAS outbreak.
Speaking for the first time since his recent appointment to the Newcastle Airport Pty Ltd (NAPL) board, Mayor Palmer pointed to the huge investment in capital and infrastructure as evidence for portraying a positive outlook.
While he could not provide a timeline, he expected that property values would start their upward trend "once the Williamtown SAP [Special Activation Precinct] is officially kicked off, and my hope is sooner rather than later".
An SAP is a dedicated area in a regional location identified by the NSW Government to become a thriving business hub.
"There is a strong expectation that the arrival to Williamtown RAAF Base of the most sophisticated fighter jets [the F-35A aircraft] would boost economic confidence, so much so that I believe every Defence-related business would want to be a part of it," Cr Palmer said.
"We already have over $1 billion worth of infrastructure being injected on the base and this investment - along with the runway upgrade, the state-funded Astra Aerolab project plus the proposed Special Activation Precinct (SAP) - places us in a strategically strong economic position.
"Astra Aerolab is expected to ultimately deliver 5500 jobs to the region.
"The council has done its own investigations and the flow-on effect for Port Stephens is significant.
"The opportunities are endless for both big corporations like BAE and small business enterprises such as cafes and childcare centres."
His optimism was shared by Newcastle Airport, where a spokesperson expected the $1 billion a year in economic benefits to the region would grow significantly over time.
"Astra Aerospace, our new world class defence and aerospace precinct, is taking shape this year and we expect it to attract significant investment from both the public and private sectors," a Newcastle Airport spokesperson said.
"We look forward to increasing the amount of international flights operating out of Newcastle and we will continue to advocate for a runway upgrade that would see long haul flights introduced.
"Our economic modelling shows that realising that ambition would unlock an extra $12 to $13 billion in regional economic activity over a 20-year period."
Cr Palmer said that having Williamtown added to both Parkes and Wagga as an SAP project would relieve the council of issues dealing with road, drainage and planning costs.
"Not excluding the issues of the PFAS contamination, council has not been able to cut through in areas such as maintaining drains and dealing with environmentally sensitive land, due to issues of multiple ownership and state and federal laws," he said.
Property values aside, many Williamtown residents such as Linden Drysdale said that health remained the number one priority for many living in the PFAS zone.
"We are still getting cancer diagnosis in the area," she said. "I have heard of new cases in people and animals, including my dog and a neighbour's horse. We may not be around to see our property values increase."
Taylor Martin MLC said that the government had committed to undertake scoping studies to develop a business case for a Williamtown SAP, which involves extensive research, analysis and forecasting to assess whether creating an SAP makes sense.