A SIGNIFICANT number of people in Fish Creek, including those referred to as having “no skin in the game” might be all for the opening up of Fish Creek Quarry Road “for public traffic”.
But, as was evident at a Special Committee Meeting of the South Gippsland Shire Council last week, called to hear submissions, there are also forces against the proposed opening of the road easement.
In fact, as the report prepared for the meeting outlines, 65 submissions were received about the hotly debated proposal; 27 for and 38 against.
And at last Wednesday’s special meeting, there were three verbal submissions; one for and two against.
On the weight of numbers at least, the council should reject the application to open the road but there’s some way to go yet before councillors have to make a decision.
Giving them food for thought, however, at last week’s submissions session was prominent UDV/VFF representative and respected Dumbalk dairy farmer, Damian Murphy, a former Nuffield Scholar.
He told the meeting that council would dismiss right to farm and biosecurity issues at the agricultural economy’s peril.
“We don’t oppose walking tracks but in this case there is a viable alternative route that allows farmers the right to farm,” Mr Murphy commenced.
“Farmers battle against the perception of farmers but they are actually highly skilled business operators. They are also risk managers in a world where common sense isn’t commonplace any more.
“There are always going to be issues no matter what signs you put up or systems you put in place.
“How long is it going to be before the farmer is moving his 200 cows down the track and there’s someone standing there with their mobile phone up taking a selfie?”
Mr Murphy said he empathised with the affected farmers because there is no way he could operate under such conditions on his own farm.
He went on to say that the council had to take the biosecurity risks seriously.
“Anywhere where you’ve got cows you’ve got manure so you’ve got to take it seriously. Anytime it’s not taken seriously is when you’ve got problems and it’s usually people with no skin in the game who are saying otherwise.
“If you get it wrong it can be catastrophic,” he said.
Mr Murphy said he had no issue with the attitude of council to farming which he said was acknowledged by the shire as the “cornerstone of the economy.”
“To date we haven’t seen many problems but now is the time for action and that is to close this track and go via Shields and Beards roads,” Mr Murphy said.
Others speaking to their submissions included Richard Dargaville, President of the Hoddle Mountain Trail Management Group and the adjoining landowner, Carl Talbot who has previously made application to council to buy the road easement.
Mr Dargaville reiterated a presentation he had made to council on May 17 saying that use of the track by the community, especially by those using the Hoddle Mountain Trail went back decades, that it was supported by the shire’s paths and trails policy, was the safest most direct route and could be easily maintained by volunteers.
With appropriate fencing, gates and signage; there would be no problem for adjoining landowners, he said.
Mr Talbot restated his objection to the opening up of the track, asking if the Hoddle Mountain Trail people had provided a risk management plan.
“Who wears the costs and liability? Council can’t maintain the Great Southern Rail Trail now,” he said.
He listed major concerns including impact on adjoining landowners, that it would set a precedent for other areas, and biosecurity/disease risk among other things.
The consultation process is complete but council has not indicated when the issue will come to a council meeting for decision.