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Community & Business

1 October, 2022

Council Connections - September

With mayor Doug Batten

By Supplied

During the week, for the seventh time in three years, the Gilgandra Shire Council area was declared as a ‘natural disaster zone’, in response to what can only be regarded as one of the wettest winters in recent memory.

The Natural Disaster Declaration does provide access to a range of grants and subsidies including;

• Special Disaster Grant; up to $75, 000 for eligible impacted primary producers,

• Rural Landholder Grant; up to $25, 000 for eligible flood impacted landholders,

• Disaster Relief Loan; low interest loans up to $130,000 for eligible primary producers,

• Natural Disaster Transport Subsidy; for eligible farmers to help with the cost of transport for fodder and stock,

• Critical Producer Grant; up to $100,000 for eligible flood impacted primary producers.

Enquiries can be directed to Service NSW or the Rural Assistance Authority. The declaration does also allow council to lodge an insurance claim through Transport for NSW under the disaster recovery arrangement in respect of damage to our transport network.

Unfortunately, this process has a number of shortcomings in regard to the timeliness of the claims and approval process and the fact that repair work undertaken cannot provide for betterment; we are restricted to restoring the asset to its previous condition. This means that in many instances causeways are repaired to their previous condition only to be impacted by a subsequent rain event.

To further complicate this, there are also previously approved claims that remain incomplete. In recent years council has been able to take advantage of a number of state and federal government grants to fix some of these black spots.

These include culvert on Dooroombah Road, Gundy Creek Road seal extension, Paddy’s Creek retaining wall and Milpulling Creek approach slabs, while work on the Leeches Creek Road reconstruction, Berida/Innisfail intersection and Biddon Creek erosion is subject to both the weather and resource availability. I acknowledge that recent rain events have resulted in significant changes to the overland water flow impacting a number of segments of the Arthursleigh Road, which will require significant works, subject of course to dry conditions.

As I have stated previously council has a total of four grader crews, one of which is engaged on contracts works for Transport for NSW and surrounding councils. This crew does provide a commercial return for council, which for all intents and purposes goes towards council’s plant replacement program.

The remaining three gangs are engaged in undertaking council’s operational road budget. The 2022/23 budget is allocated as follows: sealed roads $625,000; unsealed roads $1.8 million; urban roads $270,000; regional roads $400,000 and a bridge loan repayment allocation of $270,000 (total of $3.365 million). To put this into context, the average daily cost to operate a grader crew is approximately $3500 (subject to the availability of things like gravel and water).

My beer coaster accounting indicates that three crews by a nine day fortnight, for a total of 19 fortnights will consume $1.8 million allocated for rural road maintenance. The remaining work is carried out by contractors, both local and national operators. I believe that all would agree that from a weather perspective we are experiencing very unusual, trying conditions. A number of landholders are concerned as to the success of this year’s crop and the availability of on-farm storage.

Sadly, in recent weeks a number of ratepayers have considered it appropriate to abuse council staff regarding the condition of the roads network. As a community we are above such actions. Staff continue to do their best under the trying conditions.

Given the probability of more rainfall, council staff are taking advantage of the wet weather to stockpile gravel and rock with the pre-harvest strategy of being able to fill as many bog holes as possible as the country dries out, together with a light maintenance grade in an attempt to support farmers prior to and throughout harvest.

Make no bones about it, it will be a long time before conditions are such that detailed reconstruction grades involving table drains and miter drains are able to be undertaken. While some community members are inconvenienced by road closures, council endeavors to take every step possible to avoid closing roads and tries to strategically, where possible close roads to minimise impacts.

As shown last week, sometimes this is unavoidable. Road closures in the current climate are necessary, with respect to road safety, given the amount of flood water impacting the road network.

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