IT HAS taken two years, since the demise of South Gippsland Tourist Rail, in January 2016, but as predicted, the 36km section of rail reserve previously looked after by the former volunteers of the group is now a lousy, stinking disgrace.
Despite letters and calls for action from adjoining landowners and urging from the South Gippsland Shire Council, the problem still hasn’t been attended to – the culprit is State Government authority VicTrack.
At the end of a long line of complainants, the ‘Sentinel-Times’ called the responsible authority last week to ask them why they hadn’t done their job and they came back with the following response:
“The Nyora to Leongatha rail reserve was formally leased to the South Gippsland Tourist Railway. As the landowner we now maintain the land,” said a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Executive Campbell Rose.
“We maintain the land by slashing grass in townships and other areas close to houses and eradicating any weeds, including spraying the track formations.
“South Gippsland Shire Council recently advised us of the regionally controlled weed (ragwort) found onsite.
“We have further grass cutting and weeding works booked in for next week,” he said.
That’s this week but so far nothing.
The shire’s not the only ones who’ve seen it.
Prominent South Gippsland resident, Ed Hanley from Dumbalk, noticed the out-of-control growth of ragwort along the sides of the track and in the rail reserve during several trips to Melbourne in the past week.
The area is also lousy with long, dry grass; blackberry; thistles and dozens of other weeds.
“It’s terrible,” he said.
“The landowner on the top side looks after the ragwort on their side but they’re fighting a losing battle.
“If it’s left to dry out, and there’s wind, it’ll spread (ragwort) right across the industrial estate from there.
“They’ve got to be responsible for it,” Mr Hanley said of VicTrack’s role.
Mr Hanley said the rail reserve between Leongatha and Nyora was also a fire hazard and only lucky that we’ve had a cool, damp summer or the situation would be critical by now.
“I’ve heard they only slash the ragwort but that’s not how you deal with it properly. It’ll create an even bigger problem.”
Mr Hanley says the attitude of VicTrack is symptomatic of other problems in rural areas, extending to the poor maintenance of roads and road reserves.
The shire says its hands are tied.
While they will be taking dozens of their own ratepayers to the Korumburra Court next Monday, January 22, for failing to reduce the fire risk on their properties, the shire is powerless to act against VicTrack.
“Section 41 of the Country Fire Authority Act allows Council to serve Fire Prevention Notices as follows: (41) Fire prevention notices. (1) In the country area of Victoria, the fire prevention officer of a municipal council may serve a fire prevention notice on the owner or occupier of land in the municipal district of that council (other than a public authority) in respect of anything.
“As VicTrack is considered a public authority it precludes us from serving a notice. However our Local Laws team has been in contact with VicTrack about the issue and are working with them to help mitigate any bushfire threat.
“VicTrack are also responsible for controlling any declared noxious weeds in the area,” said a spokesperson for the shire.
Rail trail activist John Kennedy of Korumburra believes he has the answer to VicTrack’s problem and the sooner the State Government hands over the rail reserve for an extension of the Great Southern Rail Trail the better.
“The number of families who’ve contacted me because they want their kids riding on the rail trail, the value-add for the towns along the route… it’s a no brainer.
“We’ve got a lease with VicTrack ourselves and they just won’t do the work on their side of the land. The snakes, the weeds, and all the rest, it’s a disaster. We had to get a contractor in to do it ourselves.”
Mr Kennedy has urged the shire, VicTrack and the government to get on with it and provide funding for the extension of the rail trail west from Leongatha.
VicTrack’s mess is our disgrace!