By Jess Baker
As of 27 January, the Condamine River Road gates at Killarney have reopened and Council’s proposed permit system has been scrapped.
Council officers noted in last week’s January ordinary meeting that there is no “legislative mechanism” that would allow Council to progress with the permit system proposed in a previous meeting.
However, according to legal advice received by Council in November 2020, removal of access gates from Condamine River Road is “acceptable” if a “suitable signage strategy” is employed as an alternative measure.
Officers suggested that ‘CLOSED’ signage – remotely activated by Council based on inspection of the crossings or advice from “nominated sources” living in the area – be implemented, and cameras be installed at entrance points to the crossings.
The cost of this signage has not been budgeted for in the 2020/21 budget and Council’s applications for Cambanoora Gorge management plan funding have so far been unsuccessful.
With installation of new signage and communications and removal of gates and obstructions in the road reserve likely to cost between $50,000 and $80,000, Council has decided to apply for funding via submission of a Building Better Regions Fund application.
Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley said remotely activated ‘CLOSED’ signs paired with ‘Advanced Flooding Warning Lights’ is the “best solution that’s been put forward in a long time”.
“It should alleviate the controversy and go some way towards solving what seems to be the most difficult problem we’ve dealt with in that area (Killarney),” said Cr Bartley.
Councillor Sheryl Windle was apprehensive about the changes and expressed concerns about the costs involved.
“Removal of the gates is going to incur costs, as well as costs of implementing the signage – whether that’s Council funding or state funding,” she said.
“I don’t know that we’re ever going to get (a solution)… or not one that we’re going to please everyone with, that’s for sure.”
Paul Stumkat, a landholder at Cambanoora Gorge, said Council’s decision to abandon the proposed permit system and remove access gates was “absolutely a positive”.
“Gates, cameras, and locks are expensive and (SDRC) has got a procedure in place that means someone from Council has to come out and check the crossings, unlock the gates or put new locks on… this all comes at a cost to ratepayers,” said Paul.
Council’s Director of Infrastructure Services Seren McKenzie said there had been “vandalism” over the Christmas break due to Condamine River Road being closed.
“That’s our ongoing issue… we’re spending a lot of time and resources having to constantly go out and replace locks and chains,” she said.
“We’ve had to resort to hiring a camera to make sure the lock isn’t cut.
“At the northern end, we don’t actually have the gates locked – we haven’t had them locked for the last few weeks because of increased vandalism to the adjoining property owners’ fences and gates.
“We believe that by removing the gates we’ll remove some of that cost to the ratepayer.”
Paul said the access gates are “ridiculous” and the cut locks are the result of “people venting because they can’t access a public road”.
“We (landholders) get notified of the road’s closure or reopening several days after it happens,” he said.
“I’ve been pretty lucky when heading into town because police officers have often been there to unlock the gates for me, but there have been plenty of times I haven’t known the road was closed and I’ve been caught.
“In certain outback areas there are internet camera systems set up that send alerts when crossings have flooded – that’s the system Council needs so that it’s not infringing on people’s rights.”
Other landholders at Cambanoora Gorge are disappointed to hear the permit system will not proceed and the gates will be removed.
“There is only one thing that is going to preserve the Gorge, the river, the environment, the animals, the dirt road, and the sanity of the residents going forward, and that is to control the number of vehicles – not people – coming through the Gorge,” said a resident who asked to remain anonymous.
“We want to see low impact tourists coming to the Gorge – walkers, mountain bike riders, horse riders – this is the type of tourism that is going to be sustainable going forward.
“It is the number of vehicles that are destroying the river, the road, and the potential of any low impact tourists safely experiencing the Gorge.
“The only thing that would have addressed this imbalance is a permit system.”
The resident said landholders in the Gorge would like to see that the legal advice received by Council regarding the possibility of a permit system be made available to all stakeholders, “in the interests of transparency”.
“It appears to me that (it) is a disgraceful waste of ratepayers’ money to conduct exhaustive consultation with the community, and then completely ignore those recommendations made by Council officers which are the result of that community consultation,” said the resident.