• Tony Bosworth

Five Hawkesbury councillors meet and listen to Upper Colo and Greens Rd residents’ pleas for help

Only five of the 12 Hawkesbury councillors met with distressed and angry Upper Colo and Lower Portland residents on Saturday morning to listen to their concerns about the damaged Upper Colo bridge and Greens Road, which has seen communities struggling with access and adding thousands of kilometres to their daily journeys.

The suggestion to have a face-to-face meeting – council very recently set-up a weekly email to keep residents informed about developments – was called for by Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler at the last full council meeting.

The issues centre around Upper Colo’s historic wooden bridge which was partially destroyed in the March floods some 10 weeks ago now, and severe damage to Green Road at Lower Portland at the same time, which makes it impassable in parts.

There were three resident meetings on Saturday morning, the third at Wheelbarrow Ridge Rd only attended by Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett and Cllr Wheeler.

When you don't have a bridge...several locals braved the cold waters of the Colo River to get to the Saturday meeting

At the other two meetings, Mayor Patrick Conolly, the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Wheeler, Cllr John Ross and Cllr Sarah Richards listened to residents’ concerns.

“It was always going to be a hard call, meeting locals to discuss the broken infrastructure which has literally divided this community, “ Upper Colo resident Alice Voigt told the Post. Ms Voigt is the local bringing residents together on the issue at Upper Colo.

At Lower Portland, resident Rochelle Miller is the one spearheading the community’s push to get action soon.

Lots of locals and just five Hawkesbury councillors turned up to talk and listen on Saturday

“There has been a show of support from all councillors to provide temporary solutions to residents of Greens Road but it’s whether those requests have been processed,” Mrs Miller told the Post today – Tuesday.

Saturday dawned with a communications mix up – some locals told us that’s hardly surprising given the poor mobile communications in the area, but that’s another story – which saw some councillors and several locals slipping their shoes off and wading across the very cold Colo River to join the first early morning meeting.

“Dedicated residents with little time braved the freezing waters of the Colo River, some carting children to have their voices heard,” Ms Voigt said.

Left - severe flood damage to Greens Rd. Above - a tranquil scene today...

“Several councillors mistook the south side for the meeting spot and also felt the wrath of the freezing water as they joined the circle of discussion.

“Locals quickly knocked back suggestions for a causeway, citing how irresponsible this would be as motorbikes, thrill seekers and sand drivers continue to pollute this pristine river with easy access,” Ms Voigt said.

The residents heard that a temporary option for Upper Colo – which could come in the form of an Army-suppled Bailey Bridge - has finally been formally requested with the ADF. Previously, as we reported two weeks ago, a meeting of residents had been told by a council employee that an ADF supplied bridge was not feasible.

“The consensus for a wooden type bridge strongly outweighs the council’s concrete only option, with environmental, visual and historic reasons cited,” Ms Voigt said.

The severely damaged Upper Colo Bridge on Saturday morning

“Residents spoke, cried and begged for help as the morning mist slowly lifted,” she said.

Ms Voigt said the Mayor agreed that sealing Upper Colo Road must be a priority before work began on the new bridge.

Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett said the meetings had been useful.

“There is nothing so beneficial than hearing firsthand about what issues our residents are concerned about, and to see and experience the challenges they face,” she said.

On Upper Colo, she said, “the sentiment on Saturday seemed overwhelmingly supportive of the timber bridge being repaired which would potentially be the quickest, and deliver the least impact on the pristine environment in the area.

“It is pristine and incredibly beautiful in the area, and it needs to be kept that way, “ Cllr Lyons-Bucket said.

“As a council we have work to do to ensure Upper Colo gets a solution.”

The group then visited Lower Portland’s Greens Road where the roadway damage is extensive and residents are forced to take long and potentially dangerous detours.

Early morning Saturday on the now calm Colo River

“The stress on locals is evident, and impacting significantly on their daily lives,” said the Deputy Mayor who added that a process to repair the road was happening, but in the meantime, “temporary measures to assist these people must be explored, and funding allocations locked-in to enable the works being done to deliver a road which can withstand future inundations and floods”.

But Mrs Miller says stressed residents are very much focussed on the here and now.

“No short term solutions have been announced or at least publicly announced, leaving residents no further supported than 10 weeks ago,’ she said.

“There is a lot of talk about moving forward but no action.”

In some good news on Tuesday, Wheelbarrow Ridge Rd (WRR) residents received a letter from council’s Manager for Construction and Maintenance, Richard Vaby, confirming 700m of WRR from the end of Greens Rd would get a temporary tarmac seal which could last for around three years. It doesn’t solve the Greens Rd problem, but it’s a start.

“We have had no official word on emergency funding to provide support services to residents while the road is repaired and no commitment on how long the reconstruction will take,” Mrs Miller said.

Councillor Wheeler and Cllr Lyons-Buckett also met with a group of residents from Wheelbarrow Ridge Rd, to discuss their concerns about service delivery and potential road upgrades.

Mayor Conolly and Cllr Richards did not stop to attend this meeting.

“The residents of Wheelbarrow Ridge Rd were eager to speak to all councillors in relation to their submissions made for the 2021/2022 Operational Plan and Cllr Wheeler and the Deputy Mayor spent some time following-up questions,” Mrs Miller said.

Mayor Patrick Conolly - right - listens to locals on Saturday

One side issue is refuse bins have to be taken by residents to a central collection site and that has been an issue for years with council refusing to pick the rubbish closer to residents’ homes.

“Cllr Ross did raise the waste collection at Wheelbarrow Ridge Rd at a previous council meeting,” Mrs Miller said.

“The subject was passed over but all councillors who visited on Saturday witnessed the site that is in strong need of updating.”

Mrs Miller added residents had previously put in many submissions to council about its Operational Plan – 30-plus submissions were made across the Hawkesbury and a third of those were in relation to Wheelbarrow Ridge Road, and Greens Rd at Lower Portland, and Packer Rd at Bullridge being sealed, Mrs Miller said.

The Deputy Mayor said all that councillors heard had been taken on board.

“Again the value from hearing their voices and walking the road to understand just exactly what they believe could be done for them is enormous,” Cllr Lyons-Buckett said.

“We left the meetings armed with questions and follow ups to consider and discuss. It is always delightful to engage with community members - in fact it is the primary focus councillors should have.

“Without their perspectives and valuable ideas we are in the dark in terms of being able to ensure there is equitable and realistic service delivery across our area.

“I didn’t head out this morning expecting a dip in the Colo but it was a magnificent way to start a Saturday,” said Cllr Lyons-Buckett who along with Cllr Wheeler had waded across the river.

Cllr Wheeler said she was really grateful residents took the time to meet with councillors “and show us the reality of what they are living with”.

“The impacts of this flood are still ongoing and many residents are still badly affected, travelling long distances, missing out on NDIS-funded care, living in caravans and waiting for roads to reopen so they can rebuild and get on with their lives. They need information, support and time frames to work with.

“It’s really important that councillors get out on site to really listen so we understand the urgency and importance. Some of it is really basic stuff like getting bins emptied and driving kids to school safely without having to drive round the world.

“I’m very pleased that I pushed for a site visit and that some other councillors saw the need for it. I think it’s strengthened our resolve to get this sorted out as quickly as possible.”

Pictures courtesy of Alice Voigt and Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett

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