11 February 2022

Future of northern access to Congo to be decided by councillors

| Karyn Starmer
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Congo Road North

Northern access to Congo is currently via an unsealed section of Bangalay Forest through private property. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

In a blow to Congo residents, Eurobodalla Shire Council has said the northern access to Congo is to remain closed for the foreseeable future and that any future access may involve construction of a new road with the ultimate decision to be voted on by the new Eurobodalla Shire councillors.

Access to the village of Congo was closed to the public following insurance concerns by the landowner.

The public has used an unsealed section of Congo Road across the private property for more than 30 years at the discretion of the landowner, Roy Shepherd.

The road has been maintained by council during this time.

In response to insurance concerns raised by the landowner on 29 November 2021, council sought to remove 10 trees along the edge of the access road to retain access for the public along the road.

READ ALSO Push for night-time economy in the Eurobodalla vital but not easy, says business chambers

This work was deferred following objections to the tree removal received from some members of the community and at that point, the landowner withdrew permission for the public to pass through their land and the northern route was closed to the public by council.

Access to Congo is currently via Congo Road south and Bingie Road. Travel times to Moruya via this southern route is longer and requires using a dangerous intersection with the Princes Highway, the scene of a recent fatality.

Group of protesters with signs.

Protestors outside Eurobodalla Shire Council on 15 December 2015. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

In a statement, Eurobodalla Shire Council says the council has sought further legal advice on the issue and that it is not in a position to be able to re-open the existing northern road through private land, or to indemnify the landowner against potential liability.

Council say they have been unable to establish evidence to confirm the existence of a public road through evidence of prior use of the physical Congo Road north through the private land.

“The landowner has indicated a willingness to continue to work with council toward providing a new road through the private land subject to that new road being in a mutually agreed location. Council is considering this possibility,” the statement says.

To establish any new northern route, council says funding priority to this project would affect other projects elsewhere in the shire.

READ MORE Road to Congo to remain closed despite protests

In the meantime, council will continue with more detailed environmental studies and seek to confirm that a new road could be approved for construction across the private land in accordance with the various NSW Government environmental legislative requirements.

Following this, council would need to acquire the land in accord with the Just Terms Compensation Act and other legislative requirements, including any portions that may be required from the adjoining national park.

“After review of further independent legal advice sought by council, ongoing briefings will be provided to the new council who will ultimately need to make decisions in the interest of the whole Eurobodalla community on the level of resource to be allocated to re-establishing the northern route,” the statement says.

“Council has received correspondence from people seeking to have the northern route re-opened, from people asking that the route be kept closed, from people who agreed with the proposed tree removal on safety grounds and from people who were opposed to the tree removal. Views have been expressed by people living along this route and from those living in other areas.”

“This complex matter will ultimately be a decision of the Council made by majority vote of the councillors following a formal report to the Council.”

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Jeff de Jager6:41 am 12 Feb 22

The previous council was happy to delegate complex and expensive negotiations to the general manager who one must assume has the necessary knowledge and skills for such tasks. Has the general manager been involved in the negotiations around this issue so important to the residents of Congo, the emergency services and visitors to Congo? Will the new council delegate the authority to the general manager now?

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