The collapse of the culvert on Foreshore Drive at Corlette, on the northern side of Mambo Wetlands, was a disaster waiting to happen, according to two Tomaree-based environmental groups.
In a letter sent to Port Stephens Council this week, members of the Mambo Wanda Wetlands Landcare and Conservation groups claim they had repeatedly warned the council about the road collapse, "yet the warnings were ignored or dismissed".
"That no one was killed on this busy road is a miracle, raising questions of accountability and negligence that Council cannot ignore or dismiss. Recent severe weather is no excuse for lack of action on preventive maintenance," stated the letter signed by the two presidents Roz Armstrong (Landcare) and Irene Jones (Conservation).
Asked if the council accepted that it had been warned about the dangers of the culvert, a council spokesperson said that regular inspections of assets were undertaken and future works were prioritised based on assessments.
"The Foreshore Drive culvert was captured in our future works program, an environmental assessment and development application have been approved however the funding had not yet been allocated. Unfortunately the recent natural disaster hit first."
The spokesperson said that council had used the advice from both Mambo Wetlands groups as part of the environmental assessment and DA for the culvert upgrade.
Asked about the repair work, cost and timeframe, the council spokesperson stated: "We will replace the culvert with one that meets the transport needs of the area and allows tidal flows to ensure preservation of the wetland.
"While we have a preliminary estimate, however the market will ultimately determine the cost of the project. Port Stephens has been declared a natural disaster area, and we now need to go through a number of steps to access the funding and approvals we need to start this rectification work.
"So while we can't yet commit to timing, we are committed to Foreshore Drive as one of our highest priority projects."
According to Ms Armstrong, between June 2014 and May 2019 Mambo Landcare addressed the issue of road and culvert maintenance on Foreshore Drive no less than seven times in emails to council.
"In a 2017 email, Mambo Landcare reminded council of their legal obligation to promptly repair the culvert following a coronial finding into the death of a motorbike rider in an accident south of Goulburn, attributed to negligent council maintenance," she said.
The groups believe that with the low interest rates it was time for the council to borrow the funds to build a bridge in preference to the culvert, to appease motorists, cyclist, pedestrians and residents.
"With the disaster rating, the council could also have access to both state and federal funds," Ms Armstrong said.
In 2019, the council budgeted for $1.7m to be spent on roadworks and culvert repairs on Foreshore Drive, which was closed for many months for what the community thought would be major improvements.
"Opening of the refurbished road was a major disappointment as the biggest problem, the culvert, had received no attention at all," the letter said.
"Despite local community groups and individuals writing to council and speaking personally with many staff, over many years, about the dangerous condition of the culvert and despite it being very dangerous for all road users, cars, bikes and pedestrians, council did not make any improvements to its safety. Public safety should be a first priority for any council."
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