A land lease could be the solution advocates of the Fingal Bay link road have been looking for according to Port Stephens councillor John Nell.
The proposed link from Nelson Bay Road near the Tomaree Sports Complex and Government Road Shoal Bay, said to be worth $60 million, runs through approximately 400 metres of land that belongs to the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council.
That route has been the subject of negotiation in recent years but Cr Nell has suggested the land might not need to change hands at all.
"A long term lease could be the solution," he said. "It will also depend on the legality of building a road on leased land and I believe that's what council officers are investigating."
Cr Nell said the idea was raised with him in conversation at last year's NSW Local Government Conference.
The idea came from Mid Coast Cr Len Roberts who is also CEO of Karuah Local Aboriginal Land Council, who said he was in a not dissimilar situation.
"I happened to mention that Karuah LAC was in very, very early discussion with Mid-Coast Council about possible use of land by the council at Hawks Nest. I said we were very reluctant about selling land but was open to leasing," Cr Roberts said.
Cr Roberts said all Aboriginal land was subject to a land dealing certificate which required approval by members as well as the NSW Aboriginal Land Council. He said this tended to be a stumbling block for members.
"It is important to stress that I was not suggesting that this should happen for the link road but as an option of exploration between the council and Worimi LALC," he said. "I for one am not in any way advising Worimi LALC or the council what should happen."
The Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council has declined to comment on the proposal at this time. Port Stephens Council's asset section manager John Maretich said a variety of options were under review.
“There is general community desire for council to proceed with the Fingal link road to provide alternative access in the event of an emergency and to improve traffic congestion and safety. As a result, we are currently exploring all options to progress this project," he said.
The council passed a resolution last month that asked the state government to assume financial responsibility due to the cost of such a project.
“Initial estimates show that the cost to build the road far exceeds council’s ability to fund the project, which is why council has resolved to request that the road be re-classified as a state road and funded and constructed by NSW Roads and Maritime Services," Mr Maretich said.
Cr John Nell said the project was about a matter of priorities.
"When the engineers are talking $60 million-ballpark, I don't think it's going to happen any time soon, the state governemnt hasn't got that kind of money," he said.