Mayors lock horns over proposed Bloomfield Track sealing
Douglas Shire Mayor, Julia Leu, may be challenged to stand by an undertaking that her council would stage a 1980s-style Daintree Blockade protest if plans proceed to seal the Bloomfield Track.
Cr Leu made the comments to Newsport on 18 December, 2017 after it was learned that the Cook Shire and Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shires, had agreed to split the costs of a $30,000 Cummings Economics feasibility study to assess the impact of paving the route.
At the time, a Cook Shire spokesperson said the councils wanted to improve motorist safety and boost tourism along the 40km dirt highway, which stretches from Cape Tribulation to Wujal Wujal.
What later became known as the Daintree Blockade, began on 30 November 1983 when a small group of local residents organised a protest to stop work on a road being built from Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield.
The road was set to go through the recently declared Cape Tribulation National Park, and some of the last remaining low land tropical rainforest in the country.
The protest halted construction; the media arrived; the police were called; and protesters were arrested. When supporters of the protest arrived from southern states, the confrontation escalated into a full-blown environmental protest and famously became known as The Daintree Blockade.
Cr Leu, meanwhile, is still at odds with the Cook Shire and Wujal Wujal and is questioning why the feasibility study (sealing the Bloomfield Track) was completed without input from the local government that owns the road (Douglas Shire Council).
A key finding in the report, which was completed without consultation with Douglas Shire Council, suggests that Council could save $700,000 per year on maintenance costs if it handed over its section of the unsealed Bloomfield Track.
Council spends about $130,000 per year on maintaining the track.
“What’s most disappointing is our neighbouring councils felt the need to ambush us, rather than consult with us to get the facts right about our road,” said Cr Leu.
“Regardless of the politics involved, if Cook Shire and Wujal Wujal were serious about getting this project completed, surely they would have wanted accurate data.
“The figure used for potential maintenance costs savings is a perfect example - the $700,000 figure was supplied by another council and is grossly inaccurate.
“We are in the truly bizarre situation where an economic analysis was completed about our own infrastructure in our own backyard, and no one thought to pick up the phone or drop into our office,” said Cr Leu.
Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott told Newsport today that all parties have been publically talking about this at a regional level for over three years.
“A Federal Government committee on Northern Australia last year identified the road as being of national strategic importance. Douglas Shire has passed a Council resolution saying they are not interested.
“However, Cook and Wujal see this proposal as important into the future for safety, amenity and economic development of the region.
“There is an opportunity to access Federal funding for further technical design and environmental impact assessment – this economic impact study is a first step,” he said.
Cr Scott said the environmental, safety and amenity benefits are obvious to all with a visual comparison between the sealed Cooktown – Wujal road and the unsealed section of the road between Wujal and Cape Tribulation.
“Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owners have formally requested that the road be sealed and I have had favourable comment about the environmental benefit of a sealed road surface from both the Wet Tropics Management Authority and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority,” he said.
But Cr Leu said that inquiries of Wet Tropics Management Authority and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority revealed no definitive research that quantifies unsealed road impacts on the environment and benefits of sealing in relation to this or other comparable sections of road.
The Cook Shire, Wujal-sanctioned Cummings Economics report said sealing the Bloomfield Track would cost about $119 million.
Cr Scott, meanwhile, added that the current ferry service over the Daintree is already proving inadequate in the busy season and consideration must be given to a second ferry to provide a more reliable and robust service.
“The ‘Daintree Wilderness Experience’ for the vast majority of day trippers is currently from sealed roads.
“This project would extend that opportunity and allow non 4wd drivers to enjoy the benefits of world heritage National Park on a sealed loop road from Cairns to Cooktown using the Bloomfield Track coast road and the inland Mulligan Highway,” he said.
Wujal Wujal mayor Desmond Tayley did not respond to Newsport’s questions.
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