Election candidates weigh in on Mowbray Bridge public outcry
Published Tuesday 23 February 2016
The latest Newsport poll revealed 89.7% said they would support Council investing in making the historic Old Mowbray Bridge safe so that it can be retained as the iconic fishing and croc viewing spot that it is popularly known for.
- Councillors in the dark
- CEO defends her decision
It was reported the local community are up in arms about Council’s immediate decision to remove the historical landmark.
Acting on a report provided by an “expert structural engineer” the Chief Executive Officer Linda Cardew advised that it would have been irresponsible of Council not to remove the bridge and defended Council’s decision to immediately remove the timber structure.
As public safety was the key issue prompting Council’s decision, no public consultation was necessary under those circumstances.
Mayor Julia Leu said the public were ignoring safety measures that were already in place.
“The bridge has been closed for some time due to it’s condition with barriers in place, but people have been climbing over the barriers including illegal campers,” she said.
Cr Clarke said the decision to remove the bridge and close the access was not a decision made by the Councillors.
“The first we heard about it was when the press release came out. The same time everyone heard about it. Also the Councillors were not given the opportunity to review the Engineering Reports before any decision was made,” he said.
The Councillors were provided with a copy of the confidential report last Monday 15th February and Cr Clarke said he would be going through it thoroughly.
A Newsport reader reported that they also tried to obtain a copy of the engineers report from Council only to be “fobbed off” and were advised that the report was “only in draft form and therefore not available to the public”.
According to the Council’s Facebook page, the Administration made the Operational decision to immediately demolish, in accordance with the Local Government Act 2009. Further stating that the only parts of the bridge in a condition to retain were the concrete piers.
Cr Clarke said “these piers are the most expensive part of the structure, so it is clear to me that we should look at the lesser cost of replacing the deck to allow the present uses of the bridge to continue.
“We can all see from this incident that the lack of communication causes a lot of concern to not only the Councillors, but also to the people who use this bridge,” he said.
Councillor candidate Michael Kerr said conversations between Council staff and Councillors should have begun long before Council’s caretaker mode.
“As social media has shown, this fishing spot and viewing point has been well known as a popular destination for locals and tourists.
“I personally have written and asked the Chief Executive Officer to maintain the main structure and securely fence it until a new Council is formed to make a proper decision on the future of this structure.
“Whilst I respect Council staff decision to maintain safety, I do not believe they should have the final say without Councillor input,” said Mr Kerr.
Public opinion suggests that an alternative solution would be to build a purpose built structure to provide a platform so people can continue fishing in the iconic location.
Councillor candidate Donna Graham suggested the consultant engineer should provide advice as to the alternatives.
“The consultant engineer or other appropriate expert should be engaged to provide advice as to options and costs to restore the current bridge deck or build a new fishing platform to a standard suitable for foot traffic, not vehicles. Any required access road works should be considered at the same time.
“These options and costs should be disclosed in full to the community for comment. Based on that feedback a long-term decision should be made.
“In principle I support the community continuing to have access for fishing and croc viewing from the old bridge location. As I recall the area of the bridge in question was kept in the first place because of community feedback. Retention of the bridge remains important,” she said.
While public safety is always a priority for the Council, what appears to be the underlining issue based on community feedback is the lack of community consultation.
Cr Terry Melchert said the matter has been dealt with poorly.
“In this case there is no need to gild the lily. The manner in which the administration has approached this issue with no consultation with Councillors or the community has been poor.
“The issue of a press release indicating that the bridge deck would be removed immediately and the access road torn up was more than unfortunate. Certainly I was offended by the process and so were most people in the community I have spoken with,” he said.
Cr Melchert advised he has submitted a Notice of Motion for consideration at the next Council meeting scheduled for today Tuesday 23rd February.
Supporting the Chief Executive Officers’ diligent and quick, decisive action to remove the bridge deck, Cr Carey said if not treated as an urgent priority, public safety was at continued risk.
“To do anything otherwise could be found to be culpably negligent in the event of an incident resulting in serious injury or death to anyone gaining access to the bridge. It will be a matter for the Council after 19 March to determine future courses of action.”
Cr Carey said that during Councils 2016/17 capital works deliberations, “a referral of a possible project to construct a fishing platform or similar” would be supported by him.
Cr Noli said she was contacted by a lifelong local community member about a year ago who was concerned about the state of the bridge being in disrepair.
“I went and jumped around the barrier and even to my non-expert eye it was obvious that the bridge wasn’t in a good way,” she said.
After making some inquiries, she was informed that the condition of the bridge was monitored.
“I thought possibly that the bridge had a few more years left before something seriously had to be done,” she said.
During that time also, Cr Noli advised that general discussions did take place taking into account several factors.
“General discussions, at that time, were that anything could be considered depending upon the desire of the public and what expenses are expected to be spent. Expenditure on a type of structure in that area can be considered in capital works for the next budget and it is not a difficult thing to do.
“When these general discussions took place about a year ago there was no opposition to the consideration.
“These general deliberations arose from the simple request of one person, a petition or demonstration hasn’t been necessary. Council has been getting on with preserving the safety of people and putting into place a possibility of a replacement, all without any great fuss,” she said.
Candidate Mayor Roy Weavers said in this instance the Councillors should be the driving force.
“I can only comment front he side lines, but it seems to me the Councillors should be the driving force behind these projects not the executive administration,” he said.
Candidate Councillor Vivienne Ruffles said because of the safety issues Council must abide by recommendations.
“It’s a beautiful spot and it’s aesthetic to see people fishing off the bridge and I am amazed at how many people go there, but safety is important,” she said.
On Councils agenda for today’s Ordinary Council Meeting is the full recommendation and executive summary by Council of the Old Mowbray River Bridge Removal together with the Draft Level Two Structure Inspection Report (part) for the Mowbray River Fishing Jetty.
Works to demolish the timber structure commenced last Tuesday 16th February 2016 and are now complete.
Newsport contacted all election candidates for their comment.