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Divide and Conquer : and what lies beneath the surface

There appears to be a impasse developing between the Congo community and their passage north via Congo Road to Moruya Council have now written to Congo residents and advised them that: Congo Road north has now been closed until the risk to the community,

landowner and Council can be mitigated.

All access to Congo will need to be via Congo Road south until further notice. Council advised residents in their Letter to the Resident that: "It needs to be appreciated that based on the current risk assessment, the tree works are essential if the road is to be re-opened to the community. The landowner has indicated a genuine desire to be able to re-open the road to the public, on the basis that the risk is appropriately mitigated by the removal of the ten trees identified as presenting an

unacceptable high risk." "We have subsequently advised the bus company and emergency services that all access to Congo will need to be via Congo Road south. We ask that residents respect that access along Congo Road north within this section is on private property and the landowner’s agreement to pass over his property has now been withdrawn until further notice." You can read the full letter below:

A meeting of Congo representatives was requested to be held today with the general manager. On the agenda for discussion was the shortcomings in communications of the proposed road works and the less than acceptable way the Council's Director of Infrastructure had engaged with the community with his initial "my way or the highway" response to those gathered on site on Monday morning to protest the removal of ten trees. The requested audience with the General Manager saw "the elephant" in the room so from the outset the frank conversation the community wanted to have was not forthcoming. It is understood that the expected face to face meeting was changed to a Zoom meeting due to the fact that the Executive team was in isolation due to one of their members being exposed to a positive Covid case as a result of a recent visit to Melbourne. The details of the meeting respectfully remain "off the record". What is known is that, as a result of the meeting today, Council will now be seeking further legal advice before proceeding with any proposed road works or tree works. The General Manager Catherine Dale & Director Warren Sharpe committed to keeping the trees where they are for at least the next 2 weeks while they look into the legalities of the road and land situation. Unfortunately the road will remain closed during this time at the landowner's discretion. If you drill down to what is not being said there is much to reveal. Council say "The landowner has indicated a genuine desire to be able to re-open the road to the public, on the basis that the risk is appropriately mitigated by the removal of the ten trees identified as presenting an unacceptable high risk." The above reveals that it is the landowner who is in control of the resultant works to be carried out because, if they are not to his satisfaction, and if he believes the risks have not been mitigated, he will not allow the road to be opened. The landowner is of the opinion that if "the risk is appropriately mitigated by the removal of the ten trees identified as presenting an unacceptable high risk he will not budge". Let's look at these ten trees "identified as presenting an unacceptable high risk" as Council have described in their letter to residents. As you can see in Council's diagram below only THREE of the ten trees present as "an unacceptable high risk". The others are to be removed to improve alignment or to improve a sight line. So is the tail wagging the dog? Just suppose the landowner has been advised by his insurer that, due to there being a public road (under a common law definition) traversing his private property he was liable for any accident that might happen. Accordingly his premium would be very high UNLESS he was able to prove to his insurer that he had taken steps to ameliorate the situation and directed Council to bring the section of road to an acceptable standard for the insurer "on the basis that the risk was appropriately mitigated by the removal of the ten trees identified as presenting an unacceptable high risk."

Council say "It needs to be appreciated that based on the current risk assessment, the tree works are essential if the road is to be re-opened to the community." Keep in mind that these trees did not pop up overnight. They are the very same trees that locals have been driving by for the past forty years. Council DIDN"T just decide that these trees in particular needed to be actioned. There are countless other trees across the shire that overhang and are "too close to the road edge" . Even a few hundred metres on the same trees hard pressed against the road way, leaning or overhanging stand in the National Park section of Congo Road.

So why these trees? And why now? And why the ultimatum that if they are not removed to the owners satisfaction then the road will remain closed until such time as the "ten trees identified as presenting an unacceptable high risk" are removed. This section of Congo Road has been a bugbear for decades. The owner has been approached on numerous occasions to sell a road corridor across his property and has, on many occasions, said no. The owner has also, all too regularly, threatened to close access to the road. This presented Council with a tricky situation in that it would leave Congo landlocked. Realising they had only one option Council did a deal with National Parks and created a dedicated public road reserve traversing Eurobodalla National Park that finally gave Congo residents a legal public road access in and out. This action has resulted in an all weather road that has the legal status of Public to meet the requirements that all parcels of land in NSW are serviced by a legal public road. Once completed the landowner in the north could do as he pleased and Council had fulfilled its legal obligation. Now Council says: We regret to advise that:

i) Congo Road north has now been closed until the risk to the community, landowner and Council can be mitigated.

ii) All access to Congo will need to be via Congo Road south until further notice. This appears as a clever ploy on the part of Council and the landowner to now establish factions in Congo and divide the village into those who defied Council and their proposed works and those are are now inconvenienced and don't actually mind the idea of a wider, safer corridor traversing the private land section. There is another elephant in the room that isn't being spoken of. The landowner has an extractive quarry on his property. It is all but exhausted to the south and it is inevitable that, given the high demand for sand and the upcoming Moruya ByPass and Hospital construction projects more sand will be required.

Above: With no obligation to continue to provide access across private land the landowner should be at liberty, within current legislation, to continue mining sand in a northerly direction and provide the quality sand product this quarry is well known for. Map image SixMaps. As such the life expectancy of the direct access to Moruya once enjoyed by the Congo community via the now closed road is tenuous to say the least. So there is much more afoot than is being said and the most interesting thing of all is the fact that the details are coming out like pulled teeth. Council say "We have decided to extend this period further until the legal questions raised by a group of interested residents are able to be reviewed by our legal team and responses forwarded to those writing to Council". I, for one, look forward to reading the responses. In the meantime the village of Congo is being held to ransom and it appears that the landowner is the one calling the shots.

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