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June 11th 2007
The price of a "lost opportunity"

Headland embankment covered with concrete spay Townsville City Council's Water Matters Alliance was named last week as a finalist for a top, national environmental gong, a Banksia Award, for its Horseshoe Bay wastewater plant on Magnetic Island. While the Banksia judges may well be impressed with the tertiary stage treatment and this facility's dry tropics rainforest, another step in the Alliance's works program left parts of the World Heritage headland of Bright Point disfigured and, now, following the revelation of a "lost opportunity" it seems that millions of dollars in ratepayer's money could have been saved had Townsville City Council decided to combine the $4M utilities corridor with the much awaited Nelly to Arcadia walkway.

In January this year we asked the Council's Alliance, "Some unanswered rocky questions" (read here), including, whether there was a plan to retrieve large amounts of rock and other material dropped down the steep slopes of the magnificent headland (?) and why they couldn't have saved a bomb by strapping the utilities corridor beneath a completed walkway?

For readers who may not have been on the Island at the time, a trench to contain fresh and wastewater pipes plus electricity was excavated beneath the headland road. Due to the hard rock the project took months and traffic was disrupted with one lane only open during working hours.

Try as he might, the Alliance's spokesperson was unable to elicit any answers to our questions from TCC's Public Relations section. But last week we did achieve part of an answer and it was all the more revealing.

As we reported last Tuesday, Mr Peter Driscoll, TCC's Engineer on the project, told the Community Development Association AGM, "We certainly tossed those ideas (combining the walkway with the utilities corridor) around in the office but Council said there was no money for the pathway and the sewerage line," adding, "We considered that a lost opportunity".

Magnetic Island Councillor and, now, Deputy Mayor, Jenny Hill, commenting on the $4 million utilities corridor project in October last year, said, "Bringing together Ergon Energy and NQ Water with Council means much greater cost efficiency and only cutting the road once rather than three times." There was however no mention of the walkway.

Magnetic Times understands that the most recent estimates of the costs to produce the walkway were close to $3M as the construction would always require difficult and expensive cantilevered supports over the rocky headland. Simple arithmetic suggests that had TCC decided build the walkway (attracting federal funding at the same time) it is likely that the $4M utilities corridor could have been dramatically cheaper. By how much we don't know but if months of trenching through hard rock was, as seems likely, the most expensive stage, it's plausible that the savings may have been huge and we would have had both utilities corridor and the new walkway. This might also have been enough to have produced an aesthetically sensitive and tidy finish not to mention the better environmental outcomes of more walkers and cyclists and less cars on the road.

At best we can only look forward to the construction of the walkway at some time in the future with road disruptions once again likely as the supports are set into the uncompromising granite of the headland.

In our opinion it is the role of Councillors to be aware of the totality of projects in the pipeline for their division and to look for synergies and savings where they can be made. Seemingly the dots were joined by the engineers over this much needed walkway which Council is fully aware of as a safety necessity.

But if this wasn't enough we recall that in a story from October 2005 Federal Member Peter Lindsay told Magnetic Times of a bizarre behavior in TCC's walkway funding application to the Federal Government. "There were two problems, firstly: TCC applied for Nelly to Picnic funding but when I saw it I said to them that this should go on a Nelly to Arcadia walkway and they all agreed."

According to the Federal Member, the application was, however, filled out incorrectly. It was for recurrent maintenance which is not in the guidelines and should have been for capital works. "I said, I will hold on to the funds while you submit a new application." But the new application remained with the Nelly to Picnic proposal still on it. (read full story here) Four years ago a petition calling for walkways was signed by 820 people. Magnetic Times understands there is another walkways petition, soon to be submitted, with almost 1300 signatures

Just why TCC has so blatantly stonewalled on this particular project - which any Islander will tell you is far more urgent that the Nelly to Picnic Bay walkway - is almost beyond comprehension. Some suspect that, TCC will want pedestrians off the Picnic hill as quickly as possible so as to minimise safety issues once large numbers of trucks begin their movements from Picnic to the other bays following them recently changing the status of the bush block adjacent to the Picnic Bay Wastewater plant from residential to core industry - a site where another concrete batching plant has been sought.

Others say that Cr Jenny Hill has told them that the bush track over the hill, which is totally unusable for pedestrians with luggage or strollers or bike riders, but recently reopened after Meridien developers donated $15,000 towards its refurbishment, is all Magnetic Island will get as far as a Nelly to Arcadia walkway is concerned. As we have commented in times past, TCC's Public Relations section refuse to answer questions from Magnetic Times as does our Councillor Jenny Hill so we cannot confirm this. Perhaps they are too busy completing applications for greenwashing awards?

We urge readers to ask their own questions of Council over this issue and if you receive any good or bad explanations, share them with us.

Story and photo: George Hirst

To make a comment see below

The price of a "lost opportunity"
June 12th 2007
I nearly became the needed statistic myself recently! Having arrived back on the island late at night to find no available public transport, I was left with little alternative other than to make the trek over the hill to Arcadia. Forced quickly off the road by a fast moving late night vehicle, I then nearly lost my balance as I jumped the railing (bag and all) and ended up at the bottom of the cliff. I wonder about the legal liability of TCC in the face of now numerous warnings and incidents?
June 11th 2007
Makes one wonder if there really are any professional town planners employed by the TCC or merely spin doctors with a brief to cover up whatever agenda the mayor and councillors have from time to time. Whatever is going on I don't believe 'best use' of tax/ratepayers funds is a priority.
Don and Marjorie
June 12th 2007
We hope that it is your intention to forward this article on to the "Banksia award" judges.
June 12th 2007
The missing link in this situation is the Queensland government. Since trading responsibility for the Magnetic Island main road (the 10 kms from Picnic to Horeseshoe) a few years ago for Bundock Street (and the other streets that connect Denham Street to Ingham Road around Castle Hill) the Department of Main Roads has lost interest in the Island's traffic and pedestrian issues. Hence its unstinting refusal to fund any of the Nelly to Arcadia pedestrian connection regardless of the necessity following the Queensland Government funding of the Nelly Bay harbour and ferry terminal project. Although it is easy to pick holes in Council's pathetic explanations for the other walkway funding the fact is that politically, the government could afford to ignore the Island's road needs so long as no one died as a result.
Unfortunately, the Water Matters Alliance wasn't given a shot at combining a walkway with the infrastructure works - no one had joined those dots and the money was never going to be there at the time even if the Feds were prepared to match Council's contribution. Another third of the cost needed to be picked up by Queensland and we dipped out because they didn't need that time. Maybe next time they do need us we can remind them how much we care about our pedestrian hot spots.
And not take anything away from the Water Matters Alliance which dealt with the Island community with some finesse (a word with multiple ambiguities!).
Alan Renton
June 12th 2007
True, we badly need the walkway Nelly Bay to Arcadia. However the concrete that has been added to the rocky face has made the track a couple of hundred percent safer as I found when walking it a little while ago.

What do you think? Send us your comments.

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