16 December 2021

Road to Congo to remain closed despite protests

| Karyn Starmer
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Protesters gathered outside Eurobodalla Shire Council chambers

Protesters gathered outside Eurobodalla Shire Council chambers. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

Congo residents and supporters gathered outside Eurobodalla Shire Council chambers on Wednesday, 15 December to protest the closure of the public right of way access to Congo village, 10km south-east of Moruya.

There are two roads to the village – Congo Road south – a sealed public road to the Princes highway via Bingie Road, and Congo Road north – a shortcut to the village from Moruya via South Head Road. Congo Rd north is mostly sealed but an unsealed section in the middle passes through private property.

The public has used the access across the private property for more than 30 years at the discretion of the landowner, Roy Shepherd.

Mr Shepherd operates a sand mining operation on the property, supplying sand for local concrete production and to Eurobodalla Shire Council, as well as soil and other materials to landscape supply yards and private customers.

Council has maintained the unsealed section of Congo Road north with the agreement of the landowner.

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This section of road has been closed since 29 November, when council-contracted tree loppers arrived on site to remove 10 roadside trees.

They were greeted by protestors concerned about the destruction of the large old Bangalay trees, part of an endangered Sand Bangalay Forest providing habitat for the nationally threatened Greater Glider population and other native animals.

At the protest, Mr Shepherd said he was having difficulty obtaining public liability insurance to cover the roadway through his property and that the trees needed to be removed to obtain insurance.

Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Director of Infrastructure, Warren Sharpe, agreed to halt work while council sought advice to ensure it could legally undertake that activity under the Roads Act 1993.

Mr Sharpe advised protesters that the road would remain closed indefinitely as “risks have now been identified”.

Council has advised that they are not able to indemnify the private landowner.

Congo Road

The northern access to Congo is via a section of road on private property. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

Today’s protesters maintain that due process was not followed when attempting to remove the trees, saying an inappropriate risk assessment tool was applied to deem the road dangerous.

Protest organiser Belinda Bain said the road had been used for decades with “no major incidents as far as we can tell”.

“For some reason council now wishes to assess the road for speeds of 70 km/h. It’s currently signposted at 40 km/h.”

The original Crown road reserve – an extension of Gum Leaf Drive, lies unused to the west of Mr Shepherd’s property.

Ms Bain said she has written to NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing, Melinda Pavey, on behalf of residents, asking the minister to investigate and explain how the landowner has been allowed to use the Crown road reserve, while now closing a right of way on his private land which has existed since before the mine and in lieu of the Crown road access.

“I have been in communication with Minister Pavey’s office to ask her to get the Department of Crown Lands to investigate,” she said.

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Ms Bain said a letter with 8o residents’ signatures outlining their concerns was sent to Eurobodalla Shire Council general manager Catherine Dale along with a further 20 individual letters. She says the letters remain unanswered, other than “we are seeking legal advice”.

Eurobodalla Shire Council has today advised the road will remain closed indefinitely as the landowner has withdrawn permission to use the section through his property regardless of whether the trees are cleared or not.

In a statement in response to today’s protest, Eurobodalla Shire Council said: “Council initially had agreement of the landowner to retain public use of the road subject to removal of 10 roadside trees.


With access to Congo down to one road via the Princes Highway, residents are concerned about safety. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

“The landowner has withdrawn consent for the public to access across his land along the physical gravel road regardless of any work that may be undertaken by council to mitigate the risk.”

“The section of Congo Road north across the private land will therefore remain closed as per the landowner’s decision.”

In response to residents’ concerns about having only one road into the village in an emergency, Eurobodalla Shire Council said the landowner had indicated “a preparedness to work with the Rural Fire Service in an emergency in the community interest, and the RFS has also indicated an ability to invoke powers of entry during an emergency response situation.”

“NSW Ambulance has indicated that they will use the access via Congo Road south should they need to respond to Congo village.”

But residents at the protest expressed grave fears for the safety of drivers forced to use the Princes Highway to travel to the nearest town of Moruya, saying the intersection is not suitable for large volumes of traffic turning right, particularly at peak holiday time.

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Judith Bourne11:27 am 19 Feb 22

Why not use the crown road reserve to access Congo?

Good on Roy for mining over the Crown road through his land without approval, cutting off the only legal road access to Congo village to the north!
Good on Roy for being the only landholder to the north of Congo village who would not sell a small portion of his property to Council all those years ago so that a sealed access road could be provided to Congo residents!
Good on Roy for expecting Council to maintain the gravel right of way through his property at ratepayers expense but making full use of the section of sealed road north of the village, also paid for by ratepayers, to get his huge trucks into town.
Good on Roy for wanting to remove dangerous trees that have been along the gravel the road for years without any serious accidents and then expecting ratepayers to pay for the tree works!
Good on Roy for holding the whole village of Congo to ransom! If this is Roy being kind, then I wonder what he’s like when he’s being mean?

Cld you please send me your mobile no. It’s two years to the day that I had to evacuate from Congo due to bushfires. If the southern exit was on fire another Mallacoota evacuation. Kathryn 0472519973 All signs have been taken down.

Christine Landon2:43 pm 17 Dec 21

This is disgusting. It is typical of the way Council handles anything slightly controversial. I am not surprised that the General Manager can not even be bothered to reply to the 80 letters that were sent to her. She never takes any interest in anything that is going on in the area. We used to have General Managers who actually visited the towns in our shire and attended events. Imagine that! Don’t get me started on the closure of our Visitors Centres.. I visited the new Eden Welcome Centre and it’s lovely!

Got what you wished for. Tree’s are dangerous but people want the wildlife protected, Landowner does not want to be sued if a tree falls on someone. Fair enough, why should the land owner be put up for being sued due to his past kindness in keeping the road open. Wether the speed is 40 or 70 , if a tree falls on you, who are you going to blame.

Good on Roy .Them protester have just made hole bigger if they just get the job done and stop whining we wound have road open by now .I’m not happy with them now pump out is going up in price because of them .plus I have the all kids and whining parents at bus stop now and bus has drive up street and then reverse to go out plus some parents are lazy they drive up to bus stop and there dogs running around.all I can say is I’m glad the road is close now they think they own it so they just have suck it up .Don’t let Congo people bully you it never used to be like this what’s happen to good spirits in people

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