The NSW Government will be urged to take over responsibilities for the popular coastal drive, Tathra-Bermagui Road, which involves care of the picturesque Cuttagee Bridge.
However, the future of the single-lane bridge remains uncertain with the option for its demolition and replacement remaining on the table.
This move began after the NSW Government’s Fixing Country Bridges Program announced it would provide $16.8 million to replace a number of the Bega Valley’s ageing timber bridges.
In March, Bega Valley Shire Council resolved to replace Cuttagee Bridge with a two-lane concrete alternative, but the decision has been met with community opposition as more than 10,000 people have so far signed a petition against the demolition.
However, after the initial resolution, council staff recommended the shire withdraw its application from the Fixing Country Bridges Program due to a recently discovered risk relating to the Cuttagee Bridge, and relodge an application at a later date.
“The increased risk results from the fact the [funding] deed is explicit that if the project cannot be delivered within a two-year timeframe then council will be responsible for the full cost of the project,” said council staff.
“Staff are of the opinion that although it may be possible to deliver the project within a two-year timeframe it is more likely this delivery timeframe cannot be achieved.
“[Transport for NSW] staff are of the opinion that if council does not voluntarily withdraw the application, they will initiate withdrawing the funding from council.”
Council documents show that while the Fixing Country Bridges Program would provide $7.5 million towards a new Cuttagee Bridge, the project is estimated to cost $11.5 million.
Councillors met again to discuss the matter on 31 March, with Bega Valley Shire Council Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick successfully moving a motion that council urgently advocate to the NSW Government to take over responsibility for Tathra-Bermagui Road given its capacity and financial resources.
“We cannot afford to retain the road and bridge in keeping with community wishes,” said Mayor Fitzpatrick after the meeting.
He said the decision did not change the fact the bridge needed to be upgraded to ensure it will withstand future challenges.
His motion was also to request a timeframe of at least four years, instead of two, from the Fixing Country Bridges Program to conduct work around the bridge’s design options and enact community consultation.
“We know we can’t do the work in the two years so we have to have some negotiations around that to see what we can do,” said Mayor Fitzpatrick.
He said work is still required to ensure Cuttagee Bridge is safe, therefore council will continue to look for funding opportunities to upgrade it.
But Greens councillor Cathy Griff said while she appreciates parts of Mayor Fitzpatrick’s motion, she does not support it because it still includes the other steps regarding bridges accepted by council at its last meeting, meaning the demolition clause for Cuttagee Bridge “has not been scrapped”.
“I think we should have dropped that clause because it’s way down the track anyway, and focused on the money because then I think people would have felt like it was in good faith where they may have been able to have proper input,” she said.
“It is possible the state government will come back and say, ‘No, you can’t have four years,’ and then it’s left in no-man’s land.”
But Ms Griff did say the motion means council will request a separate funding deed for Cuttagee Bridge from the other bridges council aims to rebuild.
There was passionate debate between councillors during the meeting with councillor Jo Dodds describing the bridge as “our Harbour Bridge”.
Councillor Mitchell Nadin described the ultimately passed motion as “very, very sensible”, saying the bridge did need to be rebuilt and the debate is about whether to rebuild it with concrete, timber or a combination of both.
“This is the beginning of the conversation – it’s not the end,” he said.