Imagine having to cart your cattle to the saleyards one by one in the back of trailer hitched to a ute for a 180 kilometres round trip.
That's what beef producers are expected to do after a number of landslips have closed Armidale Road, west of Kempsey.
Due to the landslip, Armidale Regional Council has given the road a 4.3 tonne road limit, which means rigid trucks can't access the road. This limit is stopping agribusiness, logging and tourism from working in the region.
Related reading: Kempsey landslip strands 1000 weaners from getting to market
It's been a ongoing saga as every time it rains there is a landslip and beef producers are calling for the road to return to state government hands so work gets done to fix the problem.
"This has been going on for years," Upper Macleay beef producer Shane Booth said.
The Kempsey-Armidale Road is an east-west corridor, stretching for 87km, in which 68km is unsealed and in a terrible state of disrepair. The road was declassified from a regional road to a local road in 2009, which meant it was passed from state government to local government control.
Two grants were obtained in 2020 by the councils that govern the road: $5 million to Kempsey for a section of road known as Pee Dee and $5m to Armidale for Flying Fox Cutting.
Mr Booth said producers were told by Armidale Council they would have to sell their cattle in Armidale and not Kempsey.
"We can't get to either as there is a 4.3 tonne road limit and I'd rather sell in Kempsey because our cattle suit that market," Mr Booth said.
While the road has been closed for periods of up to three months at any one time over the years, Mr Booth said this time it had been closed for eight weeks.
"We are pushing for it to become a state government road now and we need the government to stand up and take it back now," he said.
"They government has said it would take it back, they have even signed the deal but we feel these are hollow promises."
Mr Booth said there was no issues with the road governed by Kempsey Shire Council, just the stretch managed by Armidale.
NSW Farmers wants to remind politicians that funding alone was not enough to repair flood-damaged roads after the state and federal government announced $312m to rebuild and improve roads in the state's north.
Sandra Mitchell, who is a local NSW Farmers member that lives on the road, said it was time for all levels of government to stop passing the buck and for work to be done.
"This would never happen if this road was in front of a local councillor's house," Ms Mitchell said.
"We don't care who does the work as long as it gets done, and soon - this is a disaster waiting to happen."
Prior to the 2019 state election then-Roads Minister Melinda Pavey, who is the local Oxley MP, wrote to local residents and told them: "the Kempsey-Armidale Road will be re-classified as a state road under a re-elected NSW Nationals and Liberals government. It means, in effect, that the state will resume responsibility for maintaining and improving the Kempsey-Armidale Road".
Ms Pavey confirmed to The Land that this was the case saying that the state government was still waiting for Armidale Council to complete work funded by natural disaster relief grants.
"We don't know how long they have to take to do that work," Ms Pavey said.
But once that's done, she said: "the state government will take it back".
"The government made the decision to take back roads that were state roads originally and given to councils without fair funding, that was a policy decision made at the last election," Ms Pavey said.
"We did give a funding boost to Armidale Rd but there's difficultly getting the work done under the management of council."
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall announced in 2020 that the NSW government would fund work to repair the entire length of the road.
Mr Marshall said yesterday there had been three natural disaster declarations made on the road in the last three years and there was a 'mountain of work", which council and contractors were doing to reinstate it.
He said 100 per cent of the cost would be met under the natural disaster relief arrangement between state and federal governments and not paid for by councils.
"There has been roads slips for as long as the road has been there...for sixty years," Mr Marshall told The Land.
"And the ownership of the road won't suddenly, magically make the road have no road slips, it's a precarious area."
Mr Marshall said the road coming back to state government management was signed off last year and had been agreed to by council.
"Council is happy to hand it back when it is reclassified as a regional road once the road is reinstated," he said.
He said the council still had $10 million in grant money to undertake capital upgrades on that road but the work had not started yet.
"All they are doing is the reinstatement work, that capital works will then commence once the road is reinstated, that's what council has advised me," he said.
NSW Farmers Vice President Xavier Martin said it was clear there needed to be a concerted effort to actually get the work done.
"Cash doesn't fix roads, people with construction equipment do," Mr Martin said.
"We've seen from the shocking example of the Kempsey-Armidale Road what happens when funding is not met with workers to get the job done. While we welcome this $312m funding announcement, we want to make it clear action is required now, you can't just sign a cheque and declare 'job done'."
Armidale Regional Council Mayor Sam Coupland said it was a priority to get the road fixed.
"There is money from the state government and we are working on it," Mr Coupland said.
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