A PLETHORA of century-old bridges and frequently-driven roads are years behind in maintenance, have gone unnoticed by state government and rural shires are struggling to foot the multi-million dollar repair bills.
The Tenterfield Shire Council has imposed load limits starting at five and seven tonnes on at least 16 bridges across the region following significant delays to repair works.
Meanwhile, the Dungog Shire Council is preparing to hand down a 95 per cent rate rise across seven years to aid repairs to their 700-kilometre road network and wooden bridges.
The shire is saying we need to fix the bridges, which we do, because otherwise we can’t get our produce out, our stock out.
Significant infrastructure backlogs mean the council needs at least $20 million in road repairs and $16 million for their timber bridge infrastructure.
Load limits have already been imposed on a number of the timber crossings with farmers forced to unload their hay on one side and school buses struggling to cross them.
“School buses can’t get across on the five tonne one and our biggest worry coming into a more significant part of the fire season is some of our emergency services are having to make detours and that could be catastrophic if there is a major bushfire,” said Dungog Shire Council Mayor Tracy Norman.
But it’s a lack of support from state government that has further escalated the problem.
Dungog’s Deputy Mayor Digby Rayward said road funding formulas, particularly block grant allocations, were spearing Dungog.
“If we look at that figure (for block grant allocations), Dungog gets $9.8 million per kilometre, Port Stevens get $17 million, Maitland gets $27 million and Newcastle gets $34.7 million,” he said.
“Is that fair and equitable? It’s absolutely crap.”
While the Dungog Shire has a 700 kilometre road network, it is the only council in New South Wales without any state roads.
Council’s general manager Coralie Nichols said vehicles travelling roads had grown bigger and faster but the same changes hadn’t been gifted to their bridges, some dating back 100 years.
“The state government is the regulator of the size of the trucks and the types of trucks,” she said.
“All those regulations have allowed heavier, longer, faster vehicles.
There is no funding to local government that is hand in hand with that (that) has allowed us to update our infrastructure to support those vehicles that are now able to travel on our roads.”
In a bid to reinvigorate their shire, council has formally notified the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of their intentions for a special rate variation starting in July 2019.
Across seven years, rate payers would be dealt a tapered rate increase totalling 79pc, with an additional yearly state rate peg of 2.5pc, totalling an overall increase of 98pc
Both a written and phone survey received a 51 to 53pc result in support of the changes. While the rate increase is a significant number, the council had never recovered from a 25pc rate decrease in the 1980s.
Mayor Norman said they would still need the support of state government to see the full benefits of the increase.
State opposition leader Michael Daley visited the region on Thursday, promising $10.5 million in road funding for Dungog if his Labor camp was successful in the March election.
State government traffic movements consider both trucks and cars have the same impact on road damage, something Mayor Tracy Norman said needed reconsidering.
Under a Labor government, Mr Daley said they would review the state’s road classifications.
“NSW Labor will implement a review into road classification and work to ease the burden Dungog and other councils like it have to bear in terms of spending on rural and regional roads,” he said.
Angus beef producer Penny O’Meara owns a 233 hectare block, Yamba Woota, in the shire and currently pays $1587 each quarter in rates or $6348 annually.
Based on a council rate calculator, Ms O’Meara expects to pay $19,178 by the seventh year of July 2025 to June 2026. Flooding events in 2007 and 2015 significantly impacted the shire’s local infrastructure.
“We had the army and the press watching houses go down Dungog streets, it was horrendous, but what didn’t happen was we weren’t funded to fix our beautiful bridges,” she said.
“The shire is saying we need to fix the bridges, which we do, because otherwise we can’t get our produce out, our stock out. It’s basic infrastructure for us.
“There’s also the history of these beautiful timber bridges that cross the river as it winds down the valley.
But, Ms O’Meara said council was planning to place a huge financial burden on farmers, with rates going up three times current amounts. Councillors said ratepayers facing hardship should contact them.