By Darren Coyne
The Ballina shire council has backed a scheme that would allow trucks carrying sugar to carry heavier loads despite concerns that local roads could deteriorate more rapidly.
NSW Sugar had approached the NSW Department of Transport asking for a mass concession scheme to assist in managing transport during the harvest scheme.
The Department and Roads and Maritime Services have proposed a Sugar Cane Harvest Management Scheme (SCHMS).
But the scheme requires approvals from local councils because the heavy trucks require permits to use local roads.
NSW Sugar is a grower owned cooperative with around 500 grower members operating sugar mills located in Broadwater, Condong and Hardwood.
The cooperative employs 400 people directly and 250 additional seasonal employees during harvest.
The industry accounts for $230 million of regional economic output.
According to the staff report, Byron Shire Council plans not to accept the scheme, Clarence Valley Council will also not accept the scheme, and Lismore City Council and Tweed Shire Council are still considering the request.
Prior to yesterday’s decision, only Richmond Valley Council had indicated that they would accept the scheme.
Under the proposal, the sugar trucks would be allowed to carry an extra 5 per cent of weight, bringing the average vehicle weight to 44.63 tonnes, as opposed to the previous maximum of 42.5 tonnes.
‘Transport NSW and RMS are stating that the expected efficiencies of this scheme, based on an expected crop of 1.2 million tonnes of cane, will result in an 8.6 per cent reduction in vehicle movements.
‘Under the current operations 53,330 movements would occur as compared to 48,722 movements (a decrease of 4,608 vehicle movements). ‘
Staff warned that the scheme would result in increased damage or wear to council’s infrastructure by 25 per cent.
‘This will lead to a likely significant reduction in the life of our road pavements. ‘
Despite a staff recommendation to reject the request, Cr Keith Johnson led the push to back the scheme, arguing it would result in less trucks on the road, and less fuel costs, which would result in money staying in the region.
He said the council should agree to support the scheme and then lobby the state government for compensation if the increased roads damaged the local road system.
But Cr Jeff Johnson argued that the scheme amounted to a subsidy to the sugar industry.
‘It’s great to have less trucks on the road but the state government has to compensate for damage to the roads,’ he said.
‘We’re not here to prop up industries and support (Roads Minister) Duncan Gay’s initiative for his National Party mates.’
Cr Sharon Cadwallader attempted an amendment to support the scheme only if the state government agreed to pay compensation for any damage to local roads.
Following debate however, the amendment was rejected and Cr Keith Johnson’s motion to back the scheme was successful.
But not before Cr Jeff Johnson took a dig at Cr Johnson and Cr Paul Worth, saying ‘please don’t come back and argue about the pressure on our roads budget in the future.
‘This is a significant change to the staff recommendation. Staff have been very clear on the added costs,’ he said.
Only Crs Jeff Johnson and Ken Johnson voted against supporting the scheme.