16 February 2022

Bega Council's intensive Cuttagee Bridge debate ends where it began

| Max O'Driscoll
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Cuttagee Bridge

Bega Valley Shire councillors voted narrowly in favour of continuing with the demolition of Cuttagee Bridge. Photo: File.

After an hour and a half of debate, which included the discussion of four alternate motions, Bega Valley Shire Council has decided to stick with its original decision to demolish Cuttagee Bridge.

In March 2021, Bega Valley Shire Council determined it would remove the iconic bridge in favour of a two-lane concrete span. This decision brought an outpouring of angst from the community, who wanted to see the bridge saved.

Today, an online petition calling to stop the demolition has nearly 14,000 signatures but while the debate has raged, the bridge has deteriorated to the point where council staff determined it required a 10-tonne load limit.

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At only the second meeting of the new council’s term, Councillor Helen O’Neil, who made an election pledge to save Cuttagee Bridge, put forward a motion at the council meeting on Wednesday (9 February) seeking six commitments from the councillors, including wanting them to note the bridge’s ‘very high significance’ historically, to seek government funding for an external feasibility study of a sustainable timber or hybrid one-lane bridge and to recognise the need for urgent repair work on the bridge.

Cr O’Neil said that the intent of the motion was to seek funding to explore a bridge design “sympathetic to the heritage and cultural values at the site”.

Ultimately, there were four alterations to the original motion but councillors still voted five-to-four in favour of maintaining the status quo and continue with the previous council’s plan to demolish the bridge and build a new one.

While no decision was made to replace the March 2021 resolution, Council agreed to call on the state government to broaden the eligibility criteria for bridge replacement funding.

Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick thanked Cr O’Neil for bringing forward her motion, saying that it was great to see the councillors standing up for what they believe in throughout a “robust and respectful debate”.

He acknowledged the complexities of the issues that surround the bridge and admitted that the council “could have and should have engaged with the community much earlier”.

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“We know that the bridge is nearing the end of its functional life, and not only do we have varying community opinions about how it should be prepared or replaced, but we don’t have any funding at all,” said Cr Fitzpatrick.

“Based on our estimate last year, we will need around $15 million to replace it, which we just don’t have. Even the emergency repairs we recently undertook cost around $50,000, which is about five per cent of our annual bridge maintenance budget, which covers the 238 bridges in our shire.”

Cr O’Neil expressed her disappointment with the result.

“The bridge does not fit into the state government guideline for the Fixing Country Bridges program. So at the moment, we have a bridge that has been patched up and is safe for the moment, but we have no real plans for the future,” she said

“The problem we’ve got, apart from the fact that we’re committed to a plan that’s not very good for the environment and doesn’t mesh with its heritage values or with what the community wants, is that state government programs don’t take local situations into account.”

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She stated that community members had already reached out to her and hinted that they were not ready to give up in the fight to save the bridge just yet.

“It is a beautiful, fragile place that is a source of tourism visitation and therefore jobs, as well as being an integral part of that entire road, which is a tourist road for the state,” said Cr O’Neil.

A heritage adviser will make a presentation to the councillors at an upcoming meeting.

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brian schafer9:56 am 19 Feb 22

this bridge should should be restored to its original condition .with normal traffic it would last for ages .to many things like this are removed and replaced with concrete structures. its a scenic road NOT A HIGHWAY OR FREE WAY. a good drive to communicate between coastal towns

Sylvia Bryant12:48 pm 17 Feb 22

It’s an ugly bridge which is well overdue for an upgrade.

Charlie Stokes12:30 pm 17 Feb 22

First off, I dont live in Bega Shire.
I have been coming to Wallaga Lake since 1978 fishing and (prawning when I was younger). This Bridge does need replacement with a wide two lane bridge capable of allowing heavey transport over it with upgrade to road and bridge approaches. I have personally witnessed a number of accidents and near hits over the years at both approaches and bridge centre. This old timber structure is well past replacement date and would be a maintenance nightmare fore the Shire.Those wishing to save the bridge should be asking themselves how much they are prepared to pay for its upkeep after a new suitable two lane bridge is constructed. Old redundant bridges have ongoing costs of upkeep which olny increases as they grow older

Good to see BVSc has stuck to the Australian wide heritage policy. That is, if something is more than fifty years old, let it fall into disrepair until its too far gone, advocate its destruction without consultation, wait for the public disquiet no matter how important it is, then just smash it up anyway and replace it with something that has no character or style or foresight that the community it will love.

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