Diggers Bridge replacement project raises ire of Mowbray Valley residents

ENVIRONMENTAL COMMITMENT CHALLENGED

Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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(Left to right) Susie McMahon, Gary Hunt and Ange Constable show their disdain at the planned construction of the new bridge. Image: Howard Salkow, Newsport
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THE proposed $2.6 million Diggers Bridge replacement project, with construction expected to begin next month, has not only raised the ire of Mowbray Valley residents, it questions Council’s commitment to the environment.

And reacting to whether this goes against Council’s environmental attitude, they said in a statement: “Absolutely not.

“Douglas Shire Council appreciates this is an emotional issue, but does not accept removing a small number of rain trees, which - while beautiful – are an invasive weed that encroach on and can destroy World Heritage-listed rainforest, is going against Council’s environmental stance.

“Initial ecological advice suggests any loss in canopy will eventually be covered by surrounding rain trees.

“Some rain trees would need to be removed in any situation as they interfere with motorists’ line of sight.”

“But,” says Gary Hunt, the largest landowner and cane farmer south of the Mowbray bridge, “this is what the 52 property owners are struggling to comprehend.

“We are all well aware of Mayor Julia Leu and Council’s view of protecting the environment and this development goes against everything they stand for.”

Hunt and his fellow land owners are equally perplexed how a new bridge will provide economic and social benefits, a fact that has been promoted by Council.

“This is something that we cannot accept. A new bridge will not benefit the cane farmers, the quarry or Flames of the Forest.

“What we are struggling with is how a replacement bridge at the same location with the same load capacity that will allow exactly the same amount of trucks and buses as the dual lane option, will have an economic impact.

“As for social benefits, there are none and this argument beggars belief,” said Hunt.

In responding to promoting social benefits, Council did not directly address the issue and part of their statement said they are “firmly committed to preserving one of the country’s last timber bridges by retaining it for pedestrian and cyclist access. 

“This will ensure we preserve the area’s idyllic charm and visual aesthetics.”

It added: “The sugar industry, nearby Quarry and Flames of the Forest, have identified reduced operating costs through cut travel times. Industrial traffic will also be diverted away from residents.”

Natalie Johnson, General Manager of Flames of the Forest, said it was important that it be an 18-tonne structure.

“This was our feedback to Council and if these conditions are met, we will be able to continue to operate,” she said.

The Mowbray Valley residents have also expressed their disdain at the limited consultation and the decision to move ahead with the project.

“We met with Julia and Councillors Roy Zammataro and Abigail Noli and were advised no decision had been taken. Yet, the next morning after the meeting we learned they were moving ahead.

“Coupled to this, we learned that initially a mere 17 emails were sent out – 35 were overlooked – to the property owners advising that Council was looking at options to replace the bridge.

“And it was a little too late when we were told that Leu agreed that the community consultation process could have been handled better and been more inclusive,” said Hunt.

Hunt added that 1100 people signed a petition to save the Raintrees.

“You would have thought that Council would have rapidly understood that their perceived social benefit is not shared by those most affected by such a decision.”

According to Council, the new two-lane bridge will increase the load-limit, improve safety, support local industries and significantly extend the operational life.

Leu said Council is firmly committed to ensuring this vital project preserves the area’s idyllic charm and visual aesthetics

“We will replace any lost vegetation with suitable natives that could boost the ecosystem, further stabilise the bank and complement the riparian rainforest area.

“However, our initial ecological advice indicates any loss in canopy will eventually be covered by surrounding rain trees.”

A small number of trees need to be removed before construction starts. There are 36 rain trees along the river in the Diggers Bridge area and the existing bridge will be used for cycle and pedestrian access.

There are already indications which trees will be removed, and have been marked with an “x”.

Council has awarded the construction tender phase to local company Kenmac Constructions.


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