IN LIMBO: Di and Pete Saal with their Widgee Engineering family who face being forced to move or shut their doors.
IN LIMBO: Di and Pete Saal with their Widgee Engineering family who face being forced to move or shut their doors. Renee Albrecht

Gympie business 'held to ransom' in pricey council clash

FACED with an order from Gympie Regional Council to move or shut within two years, Di Saal gave a succinct description of the past four months at Widgee Engineering.

"Very bloody stressful," she said.

And it is easy to understand why.

Faced with a time limit to vacate their home of 25 years, Mrs Saal and her husband Pete said they've had to knock back almost $10 million in work, including a $7 million Sunshine Coast contract and a shopping centre at Pimpama.

"We had to do that because the time frame we were given in the meeting from October, we couldn't have honoured. We would have been over our time limit that the council has given us," she said.


FIGHTING ON: Widgee Engineering's Malcolm Biegel.
Widgee Engineering's Malcolm Biegel. Tom Daunt

"We're sort of being held to ransom at the moment."

Income was not the only sacrifice made, either, with no new apprentices being hired.

"If (council) closes us down they can't complete their apprenticeship with us," Mr Saal said.

And at a cost of $3-4 million, relocation was also out.

"We are not moving, that is it. There's not an option," Mrs Saal said.

"If their vote is 'no' we're closing the doors and that is it.

"We thought we were an asset but we're being treated like a criminal."


Widgee Engineering Chris Austin, Brodyn Davey and Billy Bennett.
Chris Austin, Brodyn Davey and Billy Bennett. Renee Albrecht

To stave this off they have lodged a second application to stay, which is now open for public comment.

It was lodged after their first change of use application was denied last October.

Mrs Saal said that two-year process had been a source of frustration.

"We have tried to work with them, and every time we say we'll do it they then up the ante and it's something else," she said. "It's got to the point where their requests are unreasonable."

She said so far they had spent about $460,000 trying to comply, including $34,000 for two acoustic reports. They also denied all claims their business was environmentally harmful, and pointed to their status as a gold rated member of the Australia Steel Institutes' Environmental Sustainability Charter Group which requires members "to demonstrate environmental responsibility and seek this in their sub-contractors and suppliers".

Asked about the process, a council spokeswoman said "the application is still in assessment stage as part of the legislated process, and is yet to return to council for consideration; council cannot comment on the matter".

* A second public meeting about Widgee Engineering will be held tomorrow at the Bushman's Bar from 2pm.

A bus is also being organised for those who wish to attend at a cost of $5 per person.

It will leave the Gympie Showgrounds at 12.45pm.

Inquiries to 0402 286 571 or 5482 3566.