Failed access bridges across flood drainage canals in the Macleay Valley

FAILED: This access bridge crossing the flood drainage canal on Peter Notley's property at Belmore River can't be used effectively. Photo: Tom Bushnell.

FAILED: This access bridge crossing the flood drainage canal on Peter Notley's property at Belmore River can't be used effectively. Photo: Tom Bushnell.

Farmers across the Macleay Valley are risking serious injury on a daily basis as they are forced to move livestock and heavy machinery across dilapidated bridges or find alternative routes. 

The bridges, which were put in place as part of the Macleay River Flood Mitigation Scheme during the 1960s, cross flood drains that run through and around 48 private properties.

In many cases, they provide the only access to sections of these properties.

Kempsey Shire Council assumed responsibility for the Flood Mitigation Scheme when the previous councils (Kempsey Municipal Council, Macleay Shire Council and the Macleay River County Council) amalgamated into one entity in 1975.

As such, the farmers believe that Kempsey Shire Council is responsible for maintenance and repair of the bridges.

Kempsey Shire Council says a stipulation existed in the agreement made with the farmers upon construction of the drains stating that it was only liable for repairing the bridges for a period of 40 years

However, council cannot produce a copy of the agreement.

Dairy farmer Peter Notley from Belmore River has two of the bridges on his property.

One has collapsed and the other is in disrepair, yet he must use it twice a day, all of the time.

Mr Notley says he has seen the original agreement with council but it contains nothing about 40 years.  

"It's just not there," Mr Notley said.

"Most of the flood mitigation work has done a good job, but they're not backing it up.

"These fellas reckon they can get out of it now.

"Most places the bridges are all but stuffed.

"It's devalued the properties.

"They're at the stage now where you can't get a tractor across.

"I've got cattle that won't cross them.

"Some even fell in when one of the bridges collapsed in 2010.

"Dairy will cross the remaining bridge in single file but beef cattle won't.

"We put sawdust on top to stop the cows from slipping off.

"Legally, I can't shift cattle down the main road.

"It means you have to register tractors just to get from one end to the other or find another way to get them around.

"I truck them around via my neighbour's place, but you can only do that while you have a good neighbour. 

"They are not little bridges.

"The drain itself is three times bigger than what it needs to be.

"They maintain they own the drains and we can't fill them or do anything with them, yet they won't maintain the bridges.

"They've clamped up and it's out of reach of the average bloke to build.

"Farms are not bottomless. 

"If they were going to maintain them for 40 years, they should have handed them over in a good state."

Kempsey Shire Council director of Infrastructure Services, Robert Scott, says as the constructing authority of the Flood Mitigation Scheme, council was required to reinstate access to properties, hence the bridges, but no ongoing maintenance to private property is required.

"In the absence of any agreement otherwise, then the legislation in force at the time would apply," Mr Scott said.

"This required council to reinstate private access across the drains but not maintain it.

Mr Scott said it is not council's intention to unfairly burden any property owner through any action it takes, but it simply doesn’t have funds to fix the bridges.

"Council's core purpose is to provide infrastructure and services across the community which requires balancing investment across a whole range of priorities and the needs of various sectors,” he said.

Mr Scott says council completed a flood study assessing other options and has worked with property owners to consider alternatives such as shortening bridges by partially filling the drains in or using large pipes or box culverts.

"Property owners are able to review this study information, consider options for replacement and use the information provided to support their development application,” he said.

"Council advise that an owner should only embark on alternative options after carefully considering the impact that restricting the drain will have on flooding the property."

For council's full response see Q and A with Robert Scott.

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