One year after a private landowner cut road access to the village of Congo, frustrated residents have teamed up with Eurobodalla Shire Council to workshop possible solutions to reopen Congo Road North.
Options include acquiring the existing access through the private property, acquiring different alignments through the private property, keeping the road closed, and establishing a route to the village via South Head Road and across Congo Creek.
At a recent workshop, more than 70 residents reviewed 49 community submissions representing six different solutions.
Eurobodalla Mayor Mathew Hatcher says there has been “overwhelming support” to work towards reopening the existing northern route, a section of which runs through the privately owned land.
“If this was easy, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” the Mayor told residents gathered at Kyla Hall in Tuross Head in November.
“When councillors heard from residents earlier this year that all possible solutions hadn’t been considered, we asked people to put forward those ideas so council could look at them.”
Mayor Hatcher said the workshop was a first step for the new council towards solving the long-running and complex issue.
Residents worked in groups to consider each idea, leaving their comments and questions for council staff and councillors to consider.
“We went into this with good faith and the community responded in kind,” Cr Hatcher said.
“I want to thank Congo residents for the effort made to present ideas, and again acknowledge their frustration about this complicated situation.
“It was clear the majority of residents at the workshop want us to work toward reopening the existing access, and were strongly against keeping the road closed.”
Council general manager Warwick Winn told residents the workshop was the start of a process to find a solution.
“We’ve been applying fresh thinking to this challenge and that will continue, as will our communication with residents to keep them updated,” he said.
Following receipt of independent legal advice before Christmas 2021, the council had sought to remove a small number of trees along the edge of the road to assist the private landowner and retain access for the public along the road.
However, work was deferred following objections received from some members of the community and, at that point, the landowner’s agreement for the public to pass through their land was withdrawn citing potential liability issues.
The closure left Congo residents with only one access road into the village, using Congo Road South via the Bingie Road-Princes Highway intersection.
Since the closure, the landowner has proactively collaborated with the Rural Fire Service and made arrangements for access during bushfires, should that be required.
The council is working with Crown Lands to look at potential solutions involving a Crown Road reserve running through the private property.
Congo residents will be invited to provide their feedback on the ideas and the council and community responses.