A farmer will have 28 days to remove a fence blocking members of the public accessing a popular fishing, kayaking and camping spot south of Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.
On Tuesday, 8 June, Eurobodalla Shire Council agreed not to sell Coopers Island Road – which accesses the Tuross Lake system – and instead retain it as a public road.
The council will also allocate $40,000 to realign the road back onto the road reserve, as the road currently deviates onto private property, and install regulatory and advisory signage in the area.
The road has been open to the public since the 1930s. However, it has been the cause of contention since a Wagyu beef farmer purchased the land on either side of it in October 2017.
The landowner says members of the public are a biosecurity risk, have been parking on their private property, and impeding stock movements.
Cattle will not cross the causeway over Bowns Creek, a popular fishing spot on the road, if people are in their line of sight, according to the owner.
They’ve also reported antisocial behaviour by members of the public visiting the site, including littering and infrastructure damage.
In response, the owner erected a fence to block access to Bowns Creek and a gate across Coopers Island Road, prompting outrage from local fishing and community groups, including Tuross Head Progress Association and Tuross Head Fishing Club.
More recently, the landowner requested to buy the road from Eurobodalla Shire Council and close it to the public.
According to council, there is nothing in the NSW Roads Act or any other legislation that gives the landowner rights to use the road for farming activities that are superior to those of other members of the public, including fishers.
However, Coopers Island Road users have reported hostile behaviour from the owner when accessing the road, and that the owner has ignored requests to talk.
Max Castle, a Tuross Head Progress Association and Tuross Head Fishing Club member, told council he received many complaints from the community about “being confronted, told to leave, forced off with a tractor [and] threatened with a firearm”.
As a result, members of the public were advised to “stay away for their own safety”, said Cathy Milliken, another Tuross Head Progress Association member.
Tensions between the community and landowner are high, with one man escorted out of Tuesday’s meeting by police after ignoring multiple requests to stop calling out from the gallery.
While council has agreed to keep the road open to the public, it said the conflict between users and the landowner won’t go away unless there is “goodwill from both sides”.
“It hasn’t been an easy situation … People taking entrenched views where a little bit of softness from the opposing sides could have perhaps avoided a straight-out clash,” said councillor Robert Pollock.
“I believe there are alternatives available to effectively and efficiently farm without closing the road, but I think it’s also going to take a bit of conciliation from people who have traditionally used the area.
“If you’re going to fish along that area, have a bit of consideration.”
While the landowner will have to remove the fence currently blocking access to the waterway, council said it will consider their application to keep the gate and make it public.
They say the gate will stop cattle from jumping the cattle grid at the top end of the road and walking onto the busy Princes Highway, which has happened once before.
Initially, council said it couldn’t consider the application because the land has to be unfenced. However, at Tuesday’s meeting, council revealed the landowner had, at the last minute, removed an electric fence, making the application permissible.
Council will make a decision about the fence within 14 days. However, it will be up to the landowner – if their application is approved – to clearly signpost the fence as public.