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Protracted post-bushfire road closure angers Tumbarumba residents

Edwina Mason17 February 2021
Aerial view of Elliott Way.

Aerial view of Elliott Way, between Tumbarumba and Cooma, which has been partially closed since the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: Google Maps.

Nobody knows a back road like a local and right now people west of the Snowy Mountains are furious that one of their main thoroughfares remains closed as a result of the Black Summer bushfires.

Elliott Way connects Tumbarumba to Cooma and is used frequently by business people, farmers, locals and tourists keen to take advantage of the shortcut and the scenic views it offers.

Hopes were pinned on an early 2021 opening, but this appears to have slipped to May 2021 despite representations from Snowy Valleys Council and, at a federal level, from Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain.

While Snowy Valleys Council maintains it is doing its bit to ensure its section of the road has been repaired, Mayor James Hayes said the rest is up to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

He said the section of Elliott Way that has been closed since the bushfires runs through state forest and is managed by NPWS.

“Snowy Valleys Council manages the first 21.125km of Elliott Way – from the Tooma Road intersection to the State Forest border – with funding assistance provided through the state government’s Regional Road Block Grant funding,” said Mayor Hayes.

Overlay map of Elliott Way.

Overlay map showing the council-managed section of Elliott Way, in yellow, compared to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service managed section of road, in orange. The red star denotes the point at which the road is closed. Image: Snowy Valleys Council.

He added that directly following the Black Summer bushfires, council undertook critical clean-up works on its section of Elliott Way to make it safe for local resident and softwoods industry access.

“Council has ensured the section of roadway we are responsible for has remained open following the fires, and our section will continue to remain open for the use of residents, producers and industry,” said Mayor Hayes.

“But since the fires clean-up, our section of the road was then further impacted by softwood trucks transporting black logs.”

Mayor Hayes said council has since received funding to repair sections of the road that have seen accelerated deterioration due to heavy vehicles and wet weather damage, and in coming months it will spend $440,000 on a program of heavy patching focused on the first 9km of Elliott Way.

“Council received $95,000 from Transport for NSW’s Regional Road Repair Program; $130,000 through the state government’s Regional Road Block Grant funding; and $120,000 from the Bushfire Disaster Fund towards repairs, with council funding the final $95,000 from its general fund,” he said.

Mayor Hayes said council will continue to seek $16 million in funding as an advocacy priority for a complete upgrade to the council-managed section of the road to cater for future industry requirements, including for Snowy 2.0 and TransGrid.

“Council continues to liaise and advocate with NPWS for the state forest road’s reopening,” he said.

A NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment spokesperson said safety is the first priority to reopening Elliott Way and other roads in the Tumbarumba area.

“Substantial landslips and associated geological instability represent a major safety issue,” said the spokesperson. “This was caused by the 2020 bushfires which burned away all the vegetation on the steep slopes along Elliott Way and Goat Ridge Road.”

The bushfires also destroyed guard rails, road signs and even damaged the bitumen road surface.

The department added that rain in October 2020 triggered huge landslips which cut Elliott Way in three places, Goat Ridge Road in one place, and further heavy rain in early February 2021 caused more damage and another landslip.

“The area is extremely unstable and dangerous,” said the spokesperson. “It would be irresponsible to attempt to reopen the road prematurely and expose drivers to danger.

“This instability has also made rectification extremely difficult because as further damage occurs, the scope of what needs to be done expands.”

The department confirmed work has been undertaken to replace signage and safety railings, and anticipated the repair of the major slips would start within the next week, with an eight-week completion timeline.

“The tender to repair Elliott Way is expected to be awarded shortly,” said the spokesperson.

“Landslips will be cleared, the road stabilised and the road resurfaced, and then the road will be opened.”

NPWS aims to have all works completed and the roads fully open to the public by the end of April.

The section of road from Khancoban to the Snowy Mountains Highway has been repaired and reopened.

“The NPWS greatly appreciates the community’s patience while we continue to prioritise safety for them, visitors and our staff,” said a spokesperson.

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