"Don't believe the spin". Not everyone is as happy as Council's Tim Booth (below) with Eurobodalla's coastal walking trail on the headlands south of Batemans Bay.
Eurobodalla Council, having received $5.25M from the Commonwealth and NSW Government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund from the now notoriously Pork Barrelled fund, have finally began work on what was meant to be a Fast-tracked project for "shovel ready projects". Being declared a "Fast-tracking project" under the grant funding meant there was no need for any of the projects to have a business plan. Fortunately for Eurobodalla we were able to benefit from the pork fest with a nice gift of $5.3 million for a 33-kilometre Coastal Trail linking the headlands and beaches of Batemans Bay’s southern shores that was given to Eurobodalla Shire Council because Bega is held by the Liberals. The $5.3 million grant didn't even need Council to formally ask for it. Unlike nearly everyone else who had to apply we didn't even need an application.
In a letter to a local residents group, the general manager of Eurobodalla Shire Council confirmed a bushfire grant application had not been submitted:
"While Council did not officially submit an application for funding for this project [Batemans Bay Coastal Headland walk] under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery fund, the Government was aware of this project."
Catherine Dale, Eurobodalla Council General Manager.
A May 2019 feasibility study prepared by consultants for the shire council noted that the coastal trail project had no route, no costings, no business plan and no evidence of consultation with the community. The trail was only notionally endorsed by shire councillors one month after the funding announcement.
Without a route, could the trail really be described as “shovel ready”?
One year on from the grand announcement of $5.3 million for a "shovel ready" project that had no application the Eurobodalla Council has announced it is beginning works that will "link the headlands and beaches between Observation Point and McKenzies Beach via a series of new and existing natural bush tracks and lookout areas, all on public land". Council say that "Owners of land adjoining the trail are being informed of the project’s progression. Council staff will work directly with residents who might have encroachments like gardens or structures on the public land where the track passes." This community has already witnessed one of the first of many expected confrontations over the proposed walking track. Residents in the Wimbie Creek area met with Council staff for a street meeting in order to meet face to face to ensure Council was in fact listening to community concerns, of which there were many. Despite the lack of time for residents to discuss the issues or swap notes in advance, it was clear on the day that there is unanimous opposition to the planned route across the narrow and fragile headland between Surf Beach and Wimbie Beach. All residents voiced similar concerns about the impacts on safety, security, the environment and resident amenity. These concerns were elaborated in submissions sent to council the week before.
During the 'Street Meet' it became apparent to the residents that Council's position regarding the location of the trail was essentially “non-negotiable” and that the serious concerns of residents/ratepayers were at best secondary to touristic objectives; moreover, that the Council staff present saw their role solely as delivering the Trail on time in the form originally conceived back in 2010.
The path of the Trail at Wimbie Beach (as shown in the image above is and described in Council's Interactive Map) was designed by staff without any consultation with residents, either recently or during the supposed concept stage of 2010. It was pointed out during the 'Street Meet' the fact that risk and environmental assessments and updates had still not been undertaken.
The Council staff argument that the Council has a right to do as it wishes on what was described as ‘council land’ does not stand up in the view of community members with them reminding Council that the concept plan itself acknowledges that a range of environmental and other impacts need to be taken into account in choosing where the Trail goes, including resident privacy and amenity. Given the ad-hoc path chosen by the Council staff as they forged their way along the headland the impacts to resident privacy will indded be significant, given the number of visitors expected and the narrowness and fragility of the headland. Residents offered that, for those rare occasions when it may not be easy to walk around the point on the sand/rocks, there were alternative routes available with their own attractions and involve little diversion from the beach itself such as the pathway along the Surf Beach reserve that was recently upgraded and leads directly onto a ‘slip road’ that joins Wimbie Street and enables walkers to avoid traffic.
While the very popular and much used beach route will be the path of choice for those exploring the proposed Coastal Trail it is unfortunate that Council remains headstrong in its commitment to ignore residents and press ahead to carve out a pathway along the narrow strip of headland adjoining private residences. Rather that identifying the risks and measuring the resident blowback Council appears to be indifferent to giving any concession that they might be wrong and are instead moving ahead in the preparation of the clifftop route that walkers and others will be encouraged by signage to use. Given the risks and costs, residents see this as unacceptable and they believe any independent assessment would come to the same view.
With Council elections looming, residents say they are disadvantaged by a lack of representation in the meantime, with little scope to discuss our concerns with Councillors until February at the earliest. They are of the opinion that it "appears very one sided and compounds the unfairness of Council announcing this proposal as a fait accompli with very little notice".
Given the issues at stake, the residents of this area urge Council to defer progressing the proposed Billabong Place section of the Walking Trail to enable the necessary environmental and risk assessments to be undertaken and made publicly available and to enable proper consultations and representations to be made. Their concerns should encourage others along the Coastal Walking Trail route HERE to have a very close look at what impacts they too might experience as the Juggernaut of clearing heads south.
Above: When each of these residents ( whom, have been in Billabong for 50 years) objected to the walk based on security and opening their properties to unsavory types, the Council Rep said, well, put up a fence !
Above: residents pressing their point with Council Rep.