Bypass receives heavy community criticism

By Daniel Hughes

A controversial heavy bypass proposal for Tocumwal prompted an emotive response from a large number of community members.

More than 100 people turned out to a public consultation meeting hosted by Berrigan Shire Council on Thursday, which far exceeded social distancing measures and forced its cancellation.

The Southern Riverina News understands the vast majority of the people in attendance oppose the bypass.

Council has said it is considering three routes for the proposed Tocumwal Agricultural and Heavy Vehicle Bypass.

Affected believe the preferred option is that it be constructed along Racecourse, McCullochs, Thorburns to the Tocumwal-Barooga Rds.

Thorburns Rd resident Greg Rowe said he understands one of the reasons for the bypass is to ease congestion in the Tocumwal township, but said the bypass would impact significantly on residents along the route.

‘‘In the letter it stipulated the location for the bypass was to limit through traffic on residents and businesses in town and for public safety concern, but they will still have the bypass going through residential areas in east Tocumwal,’’ Mr Rowe said.

‘‘There will be a huge impact on the streets in the proposed bypass area.

‘‘We still have people going walking their dogs, riding their bikes and riding horses, and heavy vehicles will create huge concerns about safety for them.

‘‘Our three main concerns are the financial, environmental and social impact this will have on the residents of the proposed bypass.

‘‘Three things that were to be discussed (at Thursday’s meeting) was the potential noise of the bypass, vehicle light pollution and the speed limits.’’

Mr Rowe said the impact of flight services and medical evacuation procedures in Tocumwal has also been raised during discussions with affected landholders.

‘‘Members of the Tocumwal airport also noted the bypass would propose a huge safety concern for planes taking part in night flights, as the proposed bypass route rears around the east runway,’’ he said.

‘‘The Civil Aviation Safety Association would have to inspect the area to deem whether it is safe to allow flights to and from the airport at night.

‘‘Royal Flying Doctors would be unable to land, commercial and civilian aircraft would also be turned away. This causes a serious problem for our community if someone is in need of immediate evacuation from town.

‘‘If lights from heavy vehicles are shining into the eyes of pilots as they take off, you wouldn't think it is very safe to be doing so would you?’’

Tocumwal real estate agent and business owner Rob Crow has expressed concern the development of a bypass will have more far reaching impacts than just affecting residents.

He fears it will also impact on investment and development in the community.

‘‘It's hard to estimate exactly, but a bypass can devalue a property at least 10 to 15 per cent. In many cases it means homeowners would lose about $50,000, or more,’’ he said.

‘‘It would also limit the expansion of the town in terms of more residential development.

‘‘Thorburns Rd is also a registered stop for school children which again causes more safety concerns.

‘‘There is also a lot of work that would need to be done and the Murray St and Tocumwal Rd is already an unsafe intersection.’’

Mr Rowe said he was advised of the project and last week’s meeting with a letter in the mail on July 7.

He said he soon found out some of his neighbours had not received the same notification.

‘‘After talking to neighbours and door knocking we found that only a select number of residents along the street had received the letter. Those who had not received them were hand delivered letters about a week later,’’ Mr Rowe said.

‘‘We took it on ourselves to reach out to members of the community who would be affected, simply to inform them of what is happening in their streets.

‘‘We didn't set out to rally people behind our position, but to present people with the information.

‘‘Whether they choose to vote for or against is completely their decision.’’

Berrigan Shire general manager Rowan Perkins said the intention of Thursday’s meeting was to discuss the project with landholders who would be directly impacted.

He said given the capacity of the Tocumwal Recreation Reserve is just 18 under COVID-19 restrictions, it was unsafe to proceed with the meeting last week.

He said the bypass is in its infancy stages and would still need to undergo numerous stages before it could proceed.

‘‘There are a lot of questions of the project at the moment, but the reality is that for much of the year the year the road will be relatively unused by heavy vehicles,’’ Mr Perkins said.

‘‘During harvest time, however, it will virtually be used twenty four-seven.

‘‘Our major concern is for the amenity of the main street in Tocumwal. As trucks get bigger we need to look for an alternate route to get operators on a route they will use.

‘‘The bypass will be moved to the next council meeting (August 19) for discussion.

‘‘We would still need to apply for grant funding, for about $3 million.

‘‘Plans would then have to be approved again by council before anything could move to the next stage.’’

Mr Rowe said given Thursday’s meeting had to be cancelled, a delegation of affected landholders will be seeking a meeting with council on the project before it is tabled at the August meeting.