12 June 2024

Bridge closure batters Bermagui businesses

| Marion Williams
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Bermagui's main street remains quiet after Wallaga Lake Bridge was closed from 29 April to 26 May

Bermagui’s main street remains quiet after Wallaga Lake Bridge was closed from 29 April to 26 May. Photo: Marion Williams.

Turnover of most Bermagui businesses reliant on tourists and day-trippers dropped sharply when Wallaga Lake Bridge recently closed for four weeks.

Some business owners say takings have not recovered since the bridge reopened and criticised the signage that Transport for NSW has on the Princes Highway and internet.

Wallaga Lake Bridge was closed from 29 April to 26 May for essential repairs and maintenance. It will close again from 8 to 28 July. Residents and visitors who normally access Bermagui over the bridge must take an expensive and time-consuming detour via Cobargo.

Accommodation providers, eateries and retailers were hit hardest. Yannis Ganter, owner of Bermagui Beach Hotel, said while the pub fared OK during the evening, daytime trade was terrible.

“You lose those day-trippers who come into Bermagui for lunch and coffee,” he said. “It makes the winter season tough if you go through your summer savings in the first month.”

Businesses similarly impacted included Bermagui Country Club, Bermagui Motor Inn, Horseshoe Cafe, Il Passaggio Restaurant, Il Passaggio Milkbar and Deli and Mr Hope Espresso. Retailers Bermagui Surf Shop, Ocean People and The Pineapple House were also affected.

wallaga lake bridge

Wallaga Lake Bridge was built in 1894 and is undergoing essential repairs and maintenance. Photo: Transport for NSW.

Staff shared the pain.

Erin, who runs Horseshoe Cafe, said the business “didn’t have the hours to give staff, so you have your staff sitting at home”.

Sue Singleton, owner of Bermagui Motor Inn, said they were employing people they didn’t necessarily need.

“A lot of businesses said they had staff in doing this and that to make sure they got some shifts in during the week.”

Erin’s husband is a floor sander and avoided work if it meant detouring via Cobargo.

“You just put those jobs off,” Erin said. “You can’t expect people to pay for the extra cost of petrol and travelling time and you can’t absorb it yourself either.”

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The closure affected people who receive support and healthcare in their homes.

Terry Went, co-founder of Support Services 2 You, said the detour via Cobargo “definitely cost the company more and some clients said let’s make it every second day instead of daily”.

Carol Carmody praised the community nurses in Narooma for making the long journey to treat her husband’s wounds twice a week. While he was unable to access the free shuttle bus that Transport for NSW provided, Ms Carmody thought it was a great initiative.

“It has helped a lot of people here who don’t drive because we don’t have public transport,” Ms Carmody said.

Other Bermagui businesses however, including Bermagui Cellars, Boneless Vegetarian Cafe – which enjoys strong local support, and Bermagui Gelati Clinic, were not impacted. Francesca Michielin said while the gelataria was quiet, “I have to say we always tend to forget how quiet it gets at this time of year and the weather wasn’t the best”.

Bermagui's main street was very quiet at lunchtime on 5 June, with plenty of parking spaces available.

Bermagui’s main street was very quiet at lunchtime on 5 June, with plenty of parking spaces available. Photo: Marion Williams.

In contrast, Cobargo and Merimbula received a boost.

Gordon Patterson, president of the Bermagui Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, said businesses in Merimbula told him they had noticed a difference and had been busy.

Zoe Pook of Zoe Pook Jewellery said there was definitely more traffic in Cobargo and a queue of people at the bakery.

“The main street saw a swell in numbers. There was a lot more traffic, so for us it was good,” she said.

Ms Pook appreciated the bus service to Bermagui and Narooma that her teenage children used.

“That is what we need. We need public transport in this area.”

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Erin at Horseshoe Cafe was one of several business owners who criticised the original signage on the highway about the bridge closure.

“People were stopping at Cobargo saying that Bermagui was closed and people there told them they could get to Bermagui via the Cobargo-Bermagui Road.”

A week after the bridge had reopened Bermagui Visitor Information Centre received calls from visitors reporting that Google Maps was still telling them to detour via Cobargo.

Mr Patterson said it would have helped if Transport for NSW workers stayed in Bermagui to support the economy.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said its crews working on the bridge were local to Bega and travelled in daily. Another crew from Goulburn came for two weeks and stayed at the Ingenia Caravan Park.

“Transport crews required to stay for the duration of work during the upcoming closure will be making use of accommodation as needed at three different caravan parks on Wallaga Lake near the bridge,” the spokesperson said.

“Accommodation will be needed during this stage to help manage fatigue with Transport crews coming from the Bega, Illawarra, Goulburn and Wagga regions to carry out work during day and night shifts.”

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