Following discussion on bridge funding and repair, and particularly Cuttagee bridge, at the council meeting on March 10, the matter returns for debate this week after the state government's funding deed conditions were revealed.
Council was allocated almost $17m for bridge repairs of which $7.5m was for Cuttagee bridge, but this is insufficient and council was to use the $7.5m as a co-contribution in a bid to get federal funding. In the meantime the community started a campaign to keep the heritage-listed bridge, which is in a bad state of repair and has some concrete elements.
But the funding deed is explicit that if the project cannot be delivered within two years then council will be responsible for the full cost of the project (possibly $11-12m).
Transport for NSW staff also believe that as members of the public have been making ministerial representations about Cuttagee, it was likely there would be delays that mean it would not be finished in the required two year timeframe.
Read more: Council agrees to demolish Cuttagee bridge
Council staff have recommended that Cuttagee is taken out of the equation, and the previously agreed schedule of bridge works continues with reduced funding.
It is something for which Cr Cathy Griff advocated at the last meeting saying there had been no consultation with the community.
I understand that maintaining timber topped bridges is expensive but let's look at those costs. We have precious little heritage in our shire and what's the point of a heritage listing if it's going to be knocked down and ignored.Cr Cathy Griff
"Let's get the other 13 bridges fixed, take a breath and then look at Cuttagee. These people who are concerned about this bridge are not going to go away and they should be listened to," Cr Griff said.
Cr Griff's suggestion only received support from Cr Jo Dodds at the time, but now staff have suggested a similar solution given the financial risk to which council could be exposed if Cuttagee was not completed in two years.
"I understand that maintaining timber topped bridges is expensive but let's look at those costs. We have precious little heritage in our shire and what's the point of a heritage listing if it's going to be knocked down and ignored," Cr Griff said.
Council has proposed the bridge be demolished and a two-lane concrete bridge built in its place. While Cr Griff accepted that the main structure of the bridge needed to be concrete, she would like to see timber elements that retain the heritage look of the bridge.
She was concerned about the idea of a two-lane bridge and at the last meeting asked council's director of community, environment and planning, Alice Howe, about the environmental issues.
Dr Howe said the bridge and the road were in the coastal vulnerability zone and also in the vicinity of a coastal wetlands area and that would trigger an EIS (environmental impact statement).
Cr Griff said there were several complex elements relating to the bridge work including dropping the heritage listing and obtaining an environmental impact statement, which "was not going to be quick".
"We already have a precedent for a single lane bridge on that same stretch of road, and that is the Murrah Bridge. So I would like to see the options before we're stuck with these unpalatable options," Cr Griff said.
She said there had been tremendous community support with a Change.org petition collecting over 10,000 signatures, but it's a petition that council will not accept because there are no signatures and addresses.
Council is now in the unfortunate position where it is at risk that there will not be funding available to replace Cuttagee bridge now or in the future and that council does not have adequate resources to continue to maintain Cuttagee bridge.Anthony McMahon, BVSC director assets and operations
"It's a significant number of people and I know they don't all live here but many are ratepayers, they have a second home here or are visitors who love the area. Even if only 10 per cent of the signatures are from people who live here that's more than we get for any other petition," Cr Griff said.
But the funding dilemma goes deeper than simply putting off the inevitable work needed on the bridge.
Transport for NSW staff are of the opinion that if council does not voluntarily withdraw the application, then it will initiate withdrawing the funding from council. Transport also advised council's chances of receiving funding in a subsequent Fixing Country Bridges round would be higher if council voluntarily withdrew now than if the funding was taken away.
But in the meantime there are ongoing costs associated with the maintenance of Cuttagee bridge, which council said it can not cover in the longer term.
"Council is now in the unfortunate position where it is at risk that there will not be funding available to replace Cuttagee bridge now or in the future and that council does not have adequate resources to continue to maintain Cuttagee bridge," director of assets and operations Anthony McMahon has warned.
"There is an increasing risk that the longer replacement of Cuttagee bridge is deferred the higher the risk of bridge failure and loss of access of any kind as well as a risk of a gradual increase in limitations of access," he said.
Further deputations are expected to be given to council prior to the council meeting on Wednesday, March 31.