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Editorial December 13th 2019

Welcome to this weeks editorial,

As I type the Kings Highway and the Araluen Road have just been opened and the Princes Highway is only recently re-opened. For the period of the heightened Currowan fires we found ourselves isolated with the only way out being via the Brown Mountain. A two hour trip to Canberra took four and a half hours, a trip to Sydney now took 7 hours and anyone wanting to go to Nowra drove for six and a half. These were long journeys and for many who made them they were all the more difficult as the driver or passenger was on their way to specialist health treatment.

We are all aware of the many trades folk and businesses that rely on the highways between the Coast and Sydney or Canberra being open. When they are cut we also become aware that those roads are our lifeblood of food and fuel supplies which began to dry up as the fires continued. The Mayor, via social media told us all how important the reopening of the Princes Highway was for tourism trade and that local industry had suffered but no where has anyone addressed the silent fact that there would have been hundreds of our South East local community taking major detours to attend essential specialist treatments that are not available in the shire.

The fires have highlighted that the South Coast can be isolated without great difficulty. Had there been a fire to our south as well we would have been well and truly stonkered. At a local level we recognised the importance of the highway and the vital role it plays in local evacuations. So much so that a Ministerial edict was handed down to close the Batemans Bay bridge indefinitely. No more up and down for a twice a day tourist ferry. Instead it was to remain slammed shut to ensure it served as a critical pathway for road traffic.

This editorial seeks to explore two issues that few dare talk about.

The first is around all of those good souls having to leave the region daily to seek medical services that are not available here.

Finally after years of lobbying there is a NSW Government commitment to begin construction of a new $150m regional hospital for the Eurobodalla in 2023. The hospital was to have come before the Bega hospital however with all the parochial bickering between Moruya and Batemans Bay of where it should be it was decided by the State to build it in Bega instead. Now it is the turn of the Eurobodalla and still we don’t have a location nor a commitment to a Level Four facility. Why Level Four? To provide and attract the services that our residents leave the shire each day for. To Canberra, Nowra or Sydney.

But before they turn the first sod they need to determine where it will go and then determine what services it will provide

There is a very large elephant in the room around the new $200m Batemans Bay bridge. Let’s recap back to March 2015 with headlines “Constance did not consult RMS on Bay bridge” Josh Gidney, in the Bega District News reported: “Bega MP and NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance is yet to take his plans to duplicate the Batemans Bay Bridge to the Roads and Maritime Service, but said he intended to do so soon. He said RMS engineers would consider the technical aspects of the project, such as where the bridge would go. The Bega District News continued “He remained defiant, despite criticism.” Quoting the local member “I don’t care what the critics think,” he said. “This is the right thing to do. We need to build to accommodate for the growth of the town, not wait for the town’s growth to outstrip us and then respond. The traffic volume on this bridge is enormous, and I understand that yesterday (Tuesday), the traffic was held up for 10 minutes. We don’t want to have a situation where an ambulance carrying a critical patient is held up for that long.”

He said the project would create hundreds of jobs, and there would be many positive flow-on effects for the town, including improved trade and housing. “The money is coming from the roads program budget, and this government has spent $18.9 billion on health, including the South East Regional Hospital and the Renal and Oncology Unit in Moruya,” he said.

So to boil it down the bridge was a Captain’s Call and wasn’t actually on the RMS radar. And why not? The bridge is only sixty years old. It has been widely stated that the bridge pylons have concrete cancer. Not So. There has been no evidence forthcoming that this is the case. It has been stated the bridge needs $1m a year to maintain. This is hearsay and there are no financials as evidence. The bridge got stuck going up and down. Yes, until they worked out they had to fix the new computer system they had installed with four detectors rather than the original two. While the community became frustrated and anxious that the bridge might get stuck open permanently no-one came up with the idea to weld it shut. Why not? The tourist ferry demanded it open twice daily and there remained the constitutional right of maritime passage.

So the bridge was shut for the last week. It has financially compromised one business that we know of. The new bridge is under way. It will be of a height that only allows the ferry to pass under. It is important to remember that the only reason the bridge has to presently open for the ferry is because they added a top deck several years ago. If they hadn’t added that deck the bridge could have remained shut except on rare demand. Now the new bridge will be permanently set at 12m height.

So why are we having a new bridge to the value of $200m if the old one has no concrete cancer and could easily have been welded shut if they had sorted out the constitution and changed to a low profile ferry?

What Batemans Bay will actually have when the new bridge is opened is a four lane bridge with no off ramp into the Bay Foreshore. Instead it will be a four lane thunder-dome from the Kings Highway to Beach Road and then beyond. Council have NOT done a traffic study of the negative impact to trade of the new bridge and bypass. With the loss of Target, the many vacant premises on Clyde Street and the continued glum financial outlook for walk-in retail following the demise of Harris Scarf having a four lane bridge and bypass will do little for the Bay that was already on its uppers and now, as a consequence of the fires, a lot worse.

So the question is “did we need a new bridge to stimulate the economy and create “hundreds of jobs”? or might we have been better off welding the bridge shut, moving the ferry westward, as suggested by Clr Pollock , and building ourselves a $200m hospital today to stimulate our economy and meet a far urgent need than a new bridge that the RMS had not considered due for replacement until they were told to do so. Until next Lei

Opened in 1956 the Batemans Bay bridge was designed and built to last far more than 60 years.

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