Over a hundred Congo residents made their voices heard outside Council offices protesting the closure of Congo Road North.
Above: Congo residents are unimpressed that Council’s Director of Infrastructure Mr Warren Sharpe says he does “not need to consult residents,only inform them” about the future of Congo Road North.(photo Gillianne Tedder)
Above: The Protest
Above: The Protest song
Following the protest a group entered the Council offices to present a letter requesting Council reopen the Congo Road North as a matter of urgency.
In light of there being no councillors or a mayor to present to the Office of Local Government have confirmed that the general manager is responsible for the operation of the council during the period where there is no governing body of the council.
General Manager, Catherine Dale, along with Director of Infrastructure, Warren Sharpe were not available to receive the group or the letter. Instead it was passed on to Council's Divisional Manager Governance & Information, Mr Jeff Phillips (below).
In response to the protest Eurobodalla Council has issued the following statement: Congo Road north closure: position statement 15 December 2021
The following information is provided by Eurobodalla Council in response to the Congo Road north road closure protest on Wednesday 15 December 2021.
There were two roads to Congo village. Congo Road south is a sealed road off the highway via Bingie Road. This road is a public road maintained by Council and has been progressively upgraded and sealed all the way to Congo village by Council in recent years.
Congo Road north, via South Head Road, is mostly sealed but an unsealed section in the middle passes through private property. This route provides a minor shortcut to the village whereby the public has enjoyed access across private land at the discretion of the landowner. Council has assisted by maintaining this unsealed section with the agreement of the landowner.
The landowner raised concerns recently over the high risk of public liability claims. Council is unable to indemnify the landowner but agreed to work with the landowner to mitigate the risk to the community and to him as landowner.
Council initially had agreement of the landowner to retain public use of the road subject to removal of 10 road-side trees. Council sought legal advice to ensure it could legally undertake that activity under the Roads Act 1993. Some members of the community objected to this work and raised concerns about the legal ability of Council to undertake the work, citing an alternate legal view. The work on the trees was paused and those legal questions referred to Council’s legal advisers for further review. Due to the complexity of the context, this legal advice is not expected until the new year.
Council has also received correspondence from some residents asking that the trees be removed to allow the road to be re-opened.
To ensure his own legal protection, the landowner has withdrawn consent for the public to access across his land along the physical gravel road regardless of any work that may be undertaken by Council to mitigate the risk.
The landowner has indicated a preparedness to work with the Rural Fire Service in an emergency in the community interest, and the RFS has also indicated an ability to invoke powers of entry during an emergency response situation.
NSW Ambulance has indicated that their crews are on the road and mobile. They will use the legal access via Congo Road south should they need to respond to Congo village.
Council can confirm that indemnifying the private landowner is not an option. This has been explored with Council’s insurer and its insurance broker.
For public roads in the shire, Council is the road authority and can make and enact decisions about road safety and risk mitigation within the provisions of the Roads Act 1993. As a roads authority, Council also has protection under the Civil Liabilities Act 2002. In this instance, the section of road in question is privately owned and Council is therefore not the road authority and not protected under the Civil Liabilities Act.
The section of Congo Road north across the private land will therefore remain closed as per the landowner’s decision.
Council will await further legal advice before responding to Congo residents about the appropriate next steps.