Wednesday, 15 November 2017 08:34

Is the new road a dam?

VicRoadsʼ cart before the horse approach on its multi-million dollar centre- of-road wire barriers and associated works along Paynesville Road and the Princes Highway between Bairnsdale and Stratford continues to unearth flaws in the consultation and planning process. The latest is that VicRoads and its contractors, in starting work on a section of Paynesville Road near Macleod Morass, have done so without a flood impact study being requested of, or conducted by, East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. Weeks into the works and with the new road base rising significantly higher than the former road level, and on inspection by local residents, the News understands that only last Friday did VicRoads set the wheels in motion for the CMA to conduct a flood impact study. A road higher than the existing, 10 centimetres according to VicRoads, but seemingly more to the naked eye, could create a raft of issues, including increased flooding risk, locals fear. Locals contacted the CMA about the issue late last week. The response they received was that there had not been a flood impact study requested or undertaken. That study is now underway, however VicRoads is forging ahead with the works.

The RAMSAR-listed Macleod Morass is used by East Gippsland Water to pump recycled water into and the morass is always near capacity, hence the potential of the raised road creating a dam wall. Moderate flooding could become a major problem for landowners. Resident, Ian Campbell, reiterated this point. “In 2007 we had water up to the road at our property (560 Paynesville Road) and prior to that in 1998 halfway up the paddock. What we were being told was the ’07 flood was not going to be as bad as ’98,” he said. “Macleod Morass is always full. Flooding from Paynesville Road comes from the morass, not the river. Damming off the morass could have dire consequences. “My fear is VicRoads may not contact all the properties along the road. I’m anxious to make sure they contact everyone and tell them what this means,” Mr Campbell said. There is also a question over, if required, how long it will be before remedial work is undertaken. What if a flood event occurs in the interim? The News put a number of questions to VicRoads. They included:
* Why wasn’t the CMA requested to conduct a flood impact study prior to work commencing?
* Was raising the road in the contract with the road construction company, or was the decision made after work had started?
* Why is VicRoads continuing to proceed with work despite no flood impact study in a RAMSAR-listed wetland and with nearby flood-prone properties?
* What plans does VicRoads have in place to take urgent remedial action to enable water from the morass to escape?
* Does VicRoads understand that raising the Paynesville Road and dumping thousands of cubic metres of road base onto the flood plain could lead to increased flood impact on Paynesville Road properties and potentially backing up into Bairnsdale?
* Will VicRoads, as a result of the work without proper approvals, compensate landowners in the event of flood damage?

The response, from VicRoads Safe System Road Infrastructure Program director, Bryan Sherritt, barely answered any of the questions. “We’re transforming Paynesville Road from one of the riskiest rural roads in Victoria into one of the safest,” Mr Sherritt said. “A key part of this safety upgrade includes strengthening and improving the quality of the road surface to ensure it serves the local community, tourism and freight industry well into the future. “We’re working with the East Gippsland Shire Council and CMA to assess any potential flood impacts and we will undertake any mitigation works that are identified. “VicRoads undertook extensive consultation prior to stage one of works to Paynesville Road, which included the East Gippsland Shire Council, East Gippsland CMA, landholders and broader community. “Three community information sessions, as well as online feedback and door-knocking, occurred in Paynesville and Bairnsdale. “These works between Forge Creek Rd and Old Paynesville Road include flexible safety barrier installation, new sealed shoulders, line marking, wide centreline and resurfacing the road. “As part of the stage one works, sections of this 1.3km stretch of road have been raised to 10cm to improve the integrity of the road and prevent deterioration of its surface.

“A flood impact study is currently underway for this stage of works, while a further study will be undertaken for future stages of works due between Bairnsdale and the Forge Creek Road roundabout. “VicRoads will continue to keep landholders informed throughout this process.” VicRoads’ consultation has been severely questioned form the outset of the announcement of the $7.5m project, and also the Bairnsdale to Stratford project, with meetings and consultation with landowners and any other affected residents seen merely a box-ticking exercise. Plans for the remainder of the works, including the placement of overtaking lanes on Paynesville Road and where wire barriers will start and finish, and how many breaks would be included for emergency access, are expected at a later than anticipated date of mid December. Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said if the level of the road is to be raised as suggested, “I am surprised the flood impact study appears to have been an afterthought, given all locals know the flood history of this road and potential impacts on neighbouring properties”. “It would also make sense to me to halt works on that section of the road until the flood study is completed and impacts on local residents are known,” he said.