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Letter to the editor

by
March 01, 2018

Is rail trail cost a price worth paying?

WHAT will be the real costs of a Heathcote to Wallan Rail Trail?

Rail Trails can be great, but they are expensive.

In the planned extension from Heathcote to Wandong, nearly half of the route (45 per cent) chosen is privately owned land and costed at over $17 million dollars.

Mitchell Shire Council (MSC) have stated that construction would be funded from state and/or federal sources. In the Axedale to Heathcote stage of the O’Keefe Trail, the City of Greater Bendigo funded $1.3 million of the total $3.2m cost. The state government contributed $1.9m, just over 59 per cent of the cost.

What if state and federal governments will only contribute 60 per cent of the cost, will it still go ahead?

During consultation in Feb-April 2017 most landowners said they were not willing to have the trail pass through their land. Of 54 landowners affected, 37 were interviewed, and three said yes! Twenty seven said no, seven not sure.

Seventeen of the 54 landowners haven’t been directly consulted — impossible to contact apparently! Of hundreds of adjoining landholders only six were interviewed including me and my husband. According to council, it was too costly and hard to contact all those affected.

However as far back as 2012, MSC were discussing the rail trail with user groups and consultants, and discussion included:

■ developing a link from Wandong to Heathcote via Kilmore;

■ concerns the Wandong – Kilmore – Heathcote proposed trail will face some major challenges in terms of land ownership issues and ability to clear significant roadside vegetation; and

■ the possibility of increasing rates to cover trail upgrades.

Why weren’t landholders — some of whom purchased their land as recently as two years ago — not informed via their Section 32 of the intended route?

Why couldn’t MSC inform residents over the last five or six years of future plans? Why the hurry to make a decision if this has been planned for years?

Feasibility documents including the engineering report were released in late December 2017 and have been costed and engineered on the original route! When I questioned this at council recently, the answer was along the lines of — IF the future route deviates from the original route then these deviations will be engineered and costed on a section by section basis! What was the point of the consultation where 27 landholders said no to the trail through their land?

After telling consultants and council that Ladderhill Road Pyalong is unsuitable as the trail, it too remains in the engineering report. Pyalong residents don’t get a complete safe off-road path to walk and ride on, despite having to pay their share to maintain it.

MSC have said that maintenance costs won’t impact rates. It might interest ratepayers, in the first three years of its existence, the cost to Murrindindi Shire ratepayers to maintain their brand new rail trail was $280,000.

Council have quoted $1,000 per km as the accepted maintenance cost, but Loddon Mallee estimates the cost of maintaining trails at $2-$3 per metre, per annum or four per cent of build cost. That rate equates to $156,000-$680,000 per year.

Yarra Valley’s recently approved rail trail extension of 40km has a forecast budget of $503,000 annually, $192,000 for maintenance and $151,000 for asset renewal.

I question the reality of maintenance costs not impacting rates in the future. MSC has a finite budget, so what community programs, what services and opportunities will disappear if rates don’t go up?

I encourage ratepayers to read the feasibility information at engagingmitchellshire.com/wallan-to-heathcote-rail-trail and question council about the project before the decision is finalised on March 19.

Marla Stone, Pyalong

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