The Far South Coast’s Cuttagee Bridge may be saved in its historic timber form for the time being, but there are still plans to replace it in the future.
Earlier this year, the NSW Government’s Fixing Country Bridges Program announced it would provide $16.8 million to replace a number of the Bega Valley’s ageing timber bridges – including $7.5 million for Cuttagee Bridge.
Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) resolved to replace Cuttagee Bridge with a two-lane concrete alternative, but the move was met with community uproar including protests, a community forum on 2 June and a petition against the move that has received 12,400 signatures.
Earlier in June, BVSC announced it would continue to plan for an upgrade to the bridge while also investigating alternatives to the current proposal in response to community feedback.
“Council’s decision to push forward with the upgrade of the bridge came about when funding under the State Government’s Fixing Country Bridges program became available last year,” Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick said.
“However, the increased time we need to undertake all the necessary steps before construction can start, including community consultation, has led to the State Government withdrawing Cuttagee Bridge from the current funding round which has a strict two-year delivery timeframe.
“This means we have an opportunity to re-engage with the community on the future of the bridge.”
Greens Councillor Cathy Griff said council would be unable to meet the two-year completion deadline as it would have to apply to have the bridge’s heritage listing dropped and there was a lot of environmental analysis needed as it was in a coastal hazard zone.
She said works to the other bridges funded in the program will go ahead.
But while Cuttagee Bridge was out of the funding package for now, she said funding will be sought for the same concrete, two-lane option under the next round of the Fixing Country Bridges Program expected to be later this year.
“This is a situation where practical and efficient isn’t the main aim. It’s holding on to something that is beautiful, precious and meaningful to a very large number of people,” Cr Griff said.
“It’s not just a bridge as many supporters here have said – it’s a potent symbol of not only our heritage but also the beauty of the drive.
“We have relatively scant heritage in the shire – much has been destroyed.”
But she also understood the difficult position for council as due to the effects of floods, COVID-19 and how there was a lack of ratepayers in a sparsely populated shire, they were in a situation of having no money.
Cr Griff described the bridge as being “in serious disrepair”, while Mayor Fitzpatrick said it was “failing”.
BVSC’s director of assets and operations Anthony McMahon said council faced a dilemma about how to manage the future of the bridge with a number of complex constraints to consider including cost and availability of funding.
After the 2 June meeting, Mr McMahon met Davide Maggiolo from Timber Restoration Services and Systems to discuss potential timber restoration solutions.
“A significant amount of work would be required to determine if a timber restoration would be a viable alternative,” Mr McMahon said.
“As it stands, council does not currently have any budget to pay for investigation and concept design work for alternate options.”
Council’s resolution to continue planning for the Cuttagee Bridge upgrade includes continuing to seek funding while working with the community on how to address heritage and tourism concerns.
Mr McMahon said council has officially asked the NSW Government to take ongoing management responsibility for Tathra-Bermagui Road, but did not expect a decision on this for some time.
“We are committed to engaging with the community and we’re open to considering viable alternative solutions that we can take to council to consider – however we need to move with urgency,” he said.
“Council plans to establish a Community Advisory Group prior to receiving heritage, engineering and coastal hazard assessment reports that are currently being commissioned.
“Our priority will be to ensure that the group is representative of diverse views, backgrounds and experience and we plan to issue an open invitation to the community to participate in an expression of interest process.”