Most of the claims regarding the Fish Creek Quarry Road section of the Hoddle Mountain Trail made by Carl Talbot in his letter last week (‘Alternative Route to Trail’, February 6, 2018), do not stand up to scrutiny.
Mr Talbot characterises our group – the Hoddle Mountain Trail Management Group – as a “recently formed walking group”. In fact, the group spun off from the Fish Creek Development Group 18 months ago in order to realise a long-standing vision to have formal South Gippsland Shire Council recognition of the trail as a high-quality asset that locals had been using for decades.
The Development Group had the trail listed as a priority development for the town, but the position of Mr Talbot’s wife, Cr Meg Edwards, as then-president of the Development Group, raised conflicts of interest that were not easily resolved, so our group was formed.
Mr Talbot claims that the road is “unused”. History shows this is untrue. In fact, locals have continuously used the section of the trail in question for a century. Fish Creek is full of people who will tell you they’ve been walking the trail every week, or more, for years. So this is not a recent proposal, but merely a formalising of a pre-existing situation.
Mr Talbot’s claim that it would cost ratepayers several hundred thousand dollars to bring the section of road up to a safe standard is spurious and mischievous. Council’s own public documents, tabled at its 20th December 2017 meeting, indicated a cost of $4000 to bring the section of the trail to a suitable condition for walking as part of the Hoddle Mountain Trail.
Mr Talbot’s reference to the cost of the proposal process is irrelevant. It is fundamental to the fairness and transparency of the council’s operations that there be a standardised process for public submissions that guarantees the rights of ratepayers to have a say in their council’s decisions. We are sure that he is taking the opportunity to engage in the process and make his own submission on the council’s proposal.
Mr Talbot says there are alternative routes to connect Fish Creek to the Hoddle Mountain Trail that do not involve use of the Fish Creek Quarry Road section. He would be thinking of either Shields Road, or Beards Road.
The thing is, the Fish Creek Quarry Road entry on to the Hoddle Mountain Trail is already established, and has been for 15 years or so. Around 2003, the council facilitated consultations with VicRoads and Fish Creek Development Group.
Shields Road was dismissed as a starting point for the trail as there was no direct access to cross the Fish Creek-Foster Road from the Rail Trail to Shields Road.
VicRoads consultants carefully chose the current position, i.e., Fish Creek Quarry Road, on the basis that it provided the safest lines of sight for pedestrians and drivers. Also, importantly, it was located within the 60km/h-speed restriction zone for the town – effectively, in the town. VicRoads signage indicating the Quarry Road entry onto the trail already exists.
Beards Road is a high-use gravel haulage access road. Directing walkers from the safety of a closed, defined council roadway (ie, Fish Creek Quarry Road), to a busy strip of bitumen with no footpath and poor visibility in hilly terrain would seem to be reckless in the extreme. Furthermore, there is no direct crossing from the rail trail to Beards Road and substantial works would need to be undertaken to make one. It is difficult to see how either of these crossings could be made safe for walkers and drivers without considerable expenditure.
The only correct statement in Mr Talbot’s letter relates to his responsibility to meet the cost of fencing his property, which borders Fish Creek Quarry Road. The fencing has been allowed to fall into disrepair. The suggestion that the public should pay to enable Mr Talbot to meet his legal responsibility to maintain his fences is preposterous in light of his professed concerns about financial costs to ratepayers.
Mr Talbot says walkers’ use of the road section in question represents a “biosecurity risk” that could bring down his dairy operation and drive him from his farm. The risk comes, he says, from trespassers mistakenly wandering onto his property. We disagree.
Properly maintained fences, appropriate gating systems, clearly defined paths and well-placed, prominent, appropriate signage, along with the application of transparency and goodwill by all parties, would resolve any concerns and provide best possible outcomes for the whole community.
Mr Talbot’s implied claim to priority use of the Fish Creek Quarry Road section is one we cannot accept. He has no grazing leases/licenses on the trail section adjacent to his farm, so he has no claim to priority use. A gating system that allows walkers and farmers to use the trail without conflict already exists as a means of managing stock crossing from one farming section to another.
The local community and visitors have been using the trail for decades in coexistence with adjacent farming activities. The walking trail pre-exists Mr Talbot’s objections and the previous farmer-owners were supportive and had no issues with the trail. There is no reason why farmers and recreational walkers cannot co-exist to the benefit of all stakeholders, as happens in similar situations all over the country.
Richard Dargaville, president, Hoddle Mountain Trail Management Group