According to organisers, over 200 people gathered at Cuttagee Bridge, south of Bermagui on Thursday afternoon, April 8 to protest about Bega Valley Shire Council's decision to demolish and replace the heritage listed bridge with a concrete two-lane bridge.
The future of the timber Cuttagee Bridge has become a focal point for a passionate group of residents, visitors and those who own second homes in the area.
Sheena Boughen, of Barragga Bay, co-founder and previous chair and CEO of Four Winds said the event was an opportunity for people who care about retaining the heritage trail of four bridges, to rally and show outrage and concern over the stripping away of heritage and cultural assets.
What do the protesters want
"Yesterday was a rallying call to say the thinking is limited and we want council to accept our offer to explore other ideas," Ms Boughen said.
So concerned are local people, they have put their hands in their own pockets to produce 200 posters which have been going up around the area and 3000 postcards which they are asking people to send to council with their concerns about the future of the bridge.
"These are all people with skills, and incredible persistence and that was just Bermagui," Ms Boughen said in a warning to council and local politicians, that they would not give up.
"There's a whole range of ways of dealing with this issue and we want to show how constructive engagement should be done," she said.
One of the major issues for many in the community has been the lack of public consultation over a heritage-listed (albeit on the local register) item.
Community want consultation
Geoff Steel and Cliff Abbott are members of the Bermagui Community Forum.
"We try not to take a view, we're an information supplier for the community," Mr Steel explained, "but there seems to be an overwhelming opposition to the bridge being demolished."
He said the forum had been "very disappointed by the lack of consultation.
"We want a public meeting and want to try and develop a better solution rather than just grabbing for the money," he said in reference to the state government funding for replacement of timber bridges.
It's not just a bridge but part of a heritage trail
He said the value of the road and the bridge was as part of a heritage trail.
"Along the coast of NSW this sequence of wooden bridges doesn't exist anywhere else. Heritage tourism is a growth area; we have the asset and we need to maintain it," Mr Steel said.
It's a point emphasised by Bruce Lever, who was chair of Sapphire Coast Tourism for 10 years.
"When you get into serious tourism it's about defending what makes you exceptional," Mr Lever said.
"I understand it's expensive but you have to factor in the heritage contingent to tourism and the future of the tourism economy.
"We get our brand for nothing - it's about what's not developed. There's an economic argument that it is important to keep this in an undeveloped landscape," Mr Lever said.
So how did we get to this point
In early March member for Bega Andrew Constance announced funding for 12 bridges in the Bega Valley to be replaced, one of which was Cuttagee ($7.5m).
At the council meeting March 10, councillors agreed to pull down Cuttagee Bridge and rebuild a two-lane concrete bridge in its place despite receiving six verbal and two written deputations from community members, calling for more time to investigate alternatives.
However at the March 31 meeting it was revealed the state government funding came with a caveat; work must be completed within two years or council would be responsible for the full cost of the work - Cuttagee Bridge replacement is estimated to be $12m.
Because of the high cost, council was hoping to use the state government funding of $7.5m for Cuttagee as leverage for additional federal funding.
However council staff flagged their concerns over over potential delays because the bridge would have to be de-listed as a heritage item, an environmental study would be needed if the footprint of the bridge was to be expanded in the coastal wetlands area, with ministerial representations by the community likely to slow the process down even further.
At the meeting on March 31, councillors (with the exceptions of Crs Cathy Griff and Jo Dodds) agreed that the mayor and general manager ask the state government to take on responsibility for the road with a fallback position of requesting that Transport for NSW provide a separate funding deed for Cuttagee Bridge of four years.
But the agreement to demolish the bridge was not revoked.