An outcry has erupted over plans to replace a historic timber bridge on the NSW Far South Coast.
On 10 March, 2021, Bega Valley Shire Council resolved to replace the single-lane Cuttagee Bridge with a two-lane concrete alternative, but the community opposition has been swift with more than 8300 people signing a petition against the decision.
Council noted the bridge, which opened in 1935 and is on a picturesque location at the mouth of Cuttagee Lake on Tathra-Bermagui Road, is “not feasible to retain”.
Speaking after Bega Valley Shire Council’s decision, Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick said the road between Tathra and Bermagui is one everyone loves, and how council maintains it is a huge challenge moving forward.
“We know the community is concerned about losing the heritage value of the bridge, but also ensuring the infrastructure can withstand future challenges is critical,” he said.
Mayor Fitzpatrick said council will engage a heritage consultant to work with council and the community to identify how the heritage and tourism value could be reflected in the new structure.
The bridge has a listing on Heritage NSW’s State Heritage Inventory, where its degree of significance is stated to be “very high” and it is described as having “a highly evocative character”.
According to Heritage NSW, the bridge has historic significance due to being built in the post-Depression period, in 1935, has technical interest for its use of traditional timber bridge construction, and has high aesthetic value for its timber character.
“These aesthetic values are held by many members of the local community who have expressed concern at the potential demolition of the timber bridge between Bermagui and Tanja,” stated Heritage NSW in 2013.
“This and the other timber bridges contribute to the very high aesthetic values of the scenic route between Bermagui and Tathra, and are considered to be components of the cultural landscape.”
Heritage NSW also states the bridge has a heritage listing in the Bega Valley Local Environmental Plan 2013.
The decision to replace Cuttagee Bridge with a concrete span came after Member for Bega Andrew Constance announced the Bega Valley Shire would receive $16.8 million from the NSW Government’s Fixing Country Bridges Program earlier in March 2021.
“There’s no doubt that when we’re a region of fire and flood, typically one of the things that always seems to go out whenever there’s an emergency and get destroyed is some of our country bridges,” said Mr Constance.
“The work will just get underway and it will happen for those who need it most.
“There’s a lot of farms out the back which don’t always have great access. We want to replace timber with concrete so that [in] the next fire and the next flood, residents have the access they so richly need.”
Council said the funding will be used to replace a number of ageing timber bridges across the shire with structures that are safer and more resilient to natural disasters.
“Importantly, replacing these bridges will greatly reduce the ongoing maintenance burden on our ratepayers into the future,” said Mayor Fitzpatrick.
However, the reasons the online petition says why Cuttagee Bridge should be retained include the claim that building a new bridge would be a “waste of money” in the long-term due to predicted sea level rise, erosion and coastal inundation.
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Also, the petition claims the bridge is iconic and makes the Cuttagee region safer as drivers have to slow down to access the single-lane bridge.
“[It] is historic and gives an insight into what life on the coast was like before modernisation destroyed so much,” the petition states.
When announcing the $16.8 million in funding, Mr Constance shared a list of 12 bridges in the Bega Valley that would be replaced. These are:
- Cuttagee Bridge in Cuttagee
- Murrabrine Creek Bridge in Cobargo
- Wonboyn River Bridge in Wonboyn
- Buckajo Creek Bridge in Buckajo
- Johnston Creek Bridge in Numbugga
- Meringola Gully Bridge in Buckajo
- Logans Bridge in Towamba
- Red Hill Road Bridge in Bournda
- Old Soldiers Road Bridge in Wolumla
- Bens Creek Bridge in Towamba
- Nungatta Road Bridge in Nungatta
- Saddle Camp Creek Bridge in Bemboka.