Deputy mayor of Ballina Keith Williams is the latest politician to go into bat for Meerschaum Vale residents whose properties are along the route of the Pacific Highway upgrade.
Cr Williams has echoed their call for a ‘low noise pavement’ to be built to allow residents along the route some relief from ‘the beast’.
Residents have been lobbying the RMS for years on issues such as dust, a lack of consultation, noise impacts and a loss of amenity in the area, as well as the impacts on local wildlife.
Sue Whiteman, who owns a property adjacent to the proposed route that runs west of Wardell, has been leading the campaign to raise awareness about those issues.
She said the time spent by Cr Williams with residents was the most any politician had spent in her 13 years of lobbying.
‘He got to see firsthand how intimidated and bullied I am,’ she said.
Cr Williams said he was shocked to discover ‘deeply traumatised people living in fear of the RMS and the contractors that are pushing the Pacific Highway through their little village’.
‘I expected angry people, but what I saw and heard was people throughout the area pushed to the brink. There were more tears than harsh words spoken,’ he said.
‘This goes way beyond callous indifference, what I witnessed more resembled systemic intimidation, being watched every time you left your house, your movements tracked by radio, who were you talking to, who’s house did you visit.”
‘Imagine you had the temerity to speak out, then to lose road access to your house, not just for a week or two, but four months. Forced to walk 6kms from the nearest ‘safe’ parking area. Always promised, it’ll be done today.
‘And the artworks of your recently deceased partner, lovingly displayed on your boundary fence. Removed. Never to be seen again. The kind of thing that hurts way more than insults. The kind of things that encourage others to keep their mouth shut.’
Cr Williams heard that, in less than a year, there have been three different community engagement officers. With each one, the problems recited yet again. Residents unable to drink their rain water due to dust contamination. The big vibrating road compactors just outside your fence. Everything in the house shaking, continuously, for hours. The trucks, the dust, the noise.
After a few hours of sharing their stories and tears the residents had a simple request of the Deputy Mayor. Can you help us lobby for low noise pavement? Can we find a way to live with this beast? Can we get past this so the highway doesn’t continue to dominate our once peaceful lives?
A year ago at a public meeting organised by the RMS the residents were given a promise. ‘Yes, we’ll investigate a low noise pavement through this area. Yes, we’ll get back to you.’
‘They’re still waiting for a response. And now after today, so am I.’
Cr Williams this week announced he would be running as a candidate for Labor pre-selection for the next state election.
Echonetdaily has asked the RMS for comment.
A spokesman said given there were a number of issues raised by Cr Williams, time would be needed for a ‘holistic response’.
More to come