The perennial question ‘is Ross Lane open?’ edged closer to an answer yesterday, with Ballina Council discussing a range of options to solve the flooding problem which regularly cuts off Lennox’s main access to the west. Ross Lane has been closed again this week.
Engineering staff presented four options, each designed to deal with a different flooding height (or Annual Exceedance Probability/AEP). Their preferred option (2) would not flood-proof the road against severe flooding situations, but would raise the most troublesome section beyond flooding in most scenarios, in a way they suggest will best balance environmental impact and cost.
Option 2 would result in raising the road by 600mm over a length of 300 metres, creating a 10 metre long bridge with a 1.2 metre high crossing over Deadmans Creek.
Jeff Johnson’s view
Cr Jeff Johnson said it was great to receive the preliminary reports. ‘Fixing Ross Lane was a key election priority for me, so to see some progress and funding available is great news for not only Lennox residents but those who travel to and from our rural areas and the hinterland villages of Tintenbar, Wollongbar, Alstonville and beyond.
‘I’ve previously met with a number of local residents and land owners in that area and there are additional flood mitigation works that also need to be completed to reduce the amount of water pooling in the area.
‘There are currently flood gates buried in mud and blocked drains. As part of the Ross Lane upgrade these other issues need to also be addressed,’ he said.
‘The staff report stated that Ross Lane floods one or two times per year but anyone who drives that road knows that it’s probably more like ten times a year. In a wet year like we are currently experiencing, it’s basically flooded every week.
‘Late last year there was a proposal to hand back responsibility to the NSW government which would have likely resulted in no funding being made available, as Ross Lane would have then been competing with regional roads throughout the state. Flood proofing Ross Lane from the so called one in five year events is critical. With significant grant funding already available, I’m confident that the works will progress.
‘It’s already a dangerous road with little to no verge for cyclists,’ Cr Johnson said.
‘With major residential land zonings already approved at the top of Ross Lane, consideration needs to be given to plan for a future cycleway or at least increase the road verge to improve safety for cyclists.’
Getting it right
Commenting on the report, Lennox Head-based Councillor Kiri Dicker said, ‘For us, it’s incredibly complex. And as lay people, effectively, we’ve been entrusted to make a decision about the raising of the road and in the future, many other things.’
She said there were multiple complex overlapping studies which were difficult to understand. ‘But, you know, when it comes to the community, the buck stops with us. And I think, obviously, we’ll all be held accountable for decisions that we make, but some probably more than others.’
Cr Dicker joked to fellow Lennox councillor Eve Ramsey that they were the ones who were probably going to ‘get stoned’ if council chose the wrong solution.
Neighbouring landowner Alan Anderson has a number of concerns about proposed works on the road, fearing that it could worsen flooding on his farm.
He told council he and his family had been raising cattle and growing crops including sugarcane, soybeans, tea tree and rice on the property for over 40 years.
He said his own hydrologist had told him that it was not possible to accurately model the area because the neighbouring nature reserve was too difficult to get ground levels from. He said local knowledge trumped modelling, and issues with blocked drains needed to be dealt with in the short term to help the flooding problem.
Mr Anderson said his fear was that road works could cause a dam, potentially causing damage to crops, roads and infrastructure, as had been seen on a larger scale recently in Broadwater.
He said this would ‘reduce by income, damage my livelihood and mental wellbeing’ with the result that agriculture might become ‘unviable’ on his farm.
He also suggested that the proposed solution of a 10 metre bridge would not address the problem of the road being blocked, which was also affecting his ability to access some of his property.
Responding to Mr Anderson, Acting Ballina GM John Truman said community consultation would follow further refinement of design and modelling of the engineering designs, which were only preliminary suggestions.
Mayor Sharon Cadwallader suggested neighbouring landowners had not been consulted already, ‘because they’re the people who know what’s happened on that land.’
Mr Truman noted council had requested the Ross Road report from staff, and consultation would automatically follow. He said councillors needed to provide a response to the ideas on the table so that staff could ‘try to understand the community direction in terms of the level of service that may be expected versus the potential impact on adjoining landowners.
‘This is helpful so that when we talk to the landowners out there, we’ve got a direction from council that says we’re talking about this level of immunity, which has this level of impact.’
Finding the right solution
Cr Phil Meehan agreed it was ‘a balancing act’ managing the needs of various stakeholders.
Cr Johnson argued that staff suggestions provided the right mix between a high level engineering solution, ‘which would be a massive impact’ and protecting against more common lower level flooding.
All agreed that is was important for expert on-site inspections and further community consultation to follow.
Closing the debate, Mayor Cadwallader said, ‘this is just a way of going moving forward to doing something about Ross Lane. I’m so pleased that it’s here because it’s been problematic for so long.’ She said the people she had spoken to at higher levels of government agreed the current situation was ‘totally unacceptable’.
Council unanimously agreed to approve a concept plan for options 2 and 3, and to fund pre-construction activities via a transfer of $70,000 from the Transport for NSW capital expenditure budget.
More stories about Ballina Shire Council:
Greater efforts at reconciliation with First Nations people in the Ballina Shire when it comes to place-names is to happen after furious agreement at June’s council meeting.
The Ballina Shire Council has agreed to prioritise upgrading of its State Emergency Services base and to call for a new shire-wide incident control centre.
The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC) will come into existence from July 1. So what is it, and how will it assist flood-affected residents across the region?
Balloons are to be banned outside in the Ballina Shire from next year after a unanimous council vote Thursday morning.
Water samples taken around Ballina Shire indicate its water is ‘good’, but caution still recommended for swimmers.