Coopers Island Road: What are Council hiding and why are they failing their community

Eurobodalla Council are continuing to ignore a request for evidence around an application being lodged to erect a gate on a PUBLIC ROAD. Council were first made aware of the illegal erection of the gate on the popular fishing access known as Coopers Island Road, near Trunkatabella Bridge, in mid 2019 and, with no explanation, have refused to remove the gate. The standard procedure of removal of the gate is for the road authority (Council) to request the owner to do so and if they fail to then Council rangers step in to remove it to a Council depot to be collected by the owner. This has not been carried out though Council are more than aware of the illegal erection and have been reminded continually for more than eighteen months.

Above: For nearly two years the PUBLIC Road known as Coopers Island Road has had an illegal gate across it with an adjacent sign that infers the road is PRIVATE. Coopers Island Road is in fact a VERY PUBLIC ROAD and the gate is VERY ILLEGAL in that it has no permit. It is against the law to erect a gate across a PUBLIC ROAD, even if it is unlocked. The process to do so legally requires a Gate Permit. That requires an application and community consultation. Only after an application is lodged and the community agree to the erection can the gate be installed. Unless you are in Eurobodalla Shire it seems that has its own set of rules. How else could you explain that the community have been on Council's back for nearly two years over this gate and they simply ignore their duty to the community. The first thing the community did in 2019 was to advise Council of the gate. They took photos, they requested an onsite meeting, they wrote letters, they made phone calls and in the end they made the issue known to the media and now plan to have a VERY PUBLIC meeting to determine what to do next. Why are the community so interested in this road? Because it is a PUBLIC ROAD. Coopers Island Road is a PUBLIC ROAD. It is owned and maintained by Eurobodalla Council and provides access to Coopers Island. Most importantly the road, when open, used to provide access to the PUBLICLY owned causeway where families, recreational fishers and our local aboriginal cultural fishers have accessed Bowns Creek, Tuross Lake and Trunkatabella Lake. Rather than accept the PUBLIC ROAD had an ILLEGAL gate and remove it straight away (as Council have done on previous illegal installations) this gate has been allowed to stay, flaunting the law. The decision not to act can only be a directive from a senior Council staff member. The question now is "Who in Council has decided that this ILLEGAL gate can remain standing on a PUBLIC Road and why would they do so knowing it breached the law?" Following the wide attention that this issue has received Council has advised that they have requested a report to be presented to a Council meeting. This may the meeting of the 27th of April 2021 as it is understood the report should be finished by the 14th of April, 2021. It will be interesting to read the report to see if it factually documents the fact that the community have protested this gate for nearly two years and that Council have done all they can to stonewall any communication on the matter. In the end it is Councillors who are responsible for Public Roads under Council care and control and they have delegated that responsibility to staff who it appears have failed in their duties allowing this illegal gate to remain and the issue to flare. In readiness for the report and briefing Councillor Anthony Mayne visited Coopers Island Road recently saying "a friend with me was concerned that I was driving on private property."

"The gate and the private property sign in the picture does give that impression. However, this is a public road."

Above: If you arrived at this gate would you think that it was a PUBLIC ROAD or would you think that the PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESSPASSING sign suggested that you turn around. Image: Clr Anthony Mayne

Councillor Anthony Mayne said that he has been "Getting a lot of questions about this issue re a gate being placed across the road. It is a public road, used by many in our community, especially our fishing community."

"This issue is shortly coming to Eurobodalla Shire Council as we need to resolve this now. I am advised that Council is working with various groups to resolve, though gotta say, this has taken awhile! Watch this space; though to me, public is Public!". While Council have done nothing they have acknowledged, in writing, that the new landowner has placed a gate on a public road saying: "A public gate can be placed on a roadway if Council approval has been granted under the Roads Act 1993 and appropriate signposting is provided indicating this is a public gate so it is clear that the public can still use it. The landowner has not gained this approval." Council also advise in writing that "The landowner has placed a sign within their own property not far from the gate indicating private property. Understandably this adds to the confusion." Council acknowledge that the landowner has also fenced across a public road and also understand there is fencing across the causeway constraining public use of the public road reserve and access to the waterway. Council has stated that there is no approval granted for this fencing saying "This remains a public road and the public are entitled to access the waterway from the public road and causeway."

Of interest is the admission by Council that "the landowner has asked Council if they can acquire the road reserve." Eurobodalla Council have been trying for years to divest themselves of their responsibilities in regards to Crown owned Public Roads under their care and control. Coopers Island Road is one of these roads that Council grades and maintains having also built and maintained the Coopers Island Weir. In the 1990's Council were unable to "sell off" the road to the property owners as they had no interest in buying it. On two occasions Council approached previous farmers and asked if they wanted to buy the Public Road, knowing full well it was a traditional access for the many Koorie families who carried out cultural fishing in Bowns Creek, and for the many locals and visitors who enjoyed fishing, prawning, kayaking and boating. Hopefully the report will reveal exactly who in Council has issued the instruction not to remove the illegally erected gate from a Public Road.

Audio: Go to Time Stamp 6:55 for the Mayor's comments on Coopers Island Road

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