By Kirra Grimes
“WE’VE paid rates for 37 years and we get nothing,” was how one long-term Hallston resident summed up South Gippsland Shire Council’s approach to a recent landslip on one of the area’s main road links to Leongatha.
Suffering major damage in recent wet weather, Griggs Road, which links Yarragon and Mirboo North to Leongatha, will not be safe to drive on for at least 12 months, Council’s engineering team has reportedly told affected residents.
As it stands now, the 22 landholders who must use the road to access their properties have been told they are doing so “at their own risk,” with debris including boulders and dead trees still falling onto the road from one side, and severe erosion undermining it from the other side.
Others who regularly use the road to get to Leongatha have been advised to take alternative routes via River Road and Trida or Allambee Reserve, which, Hallston residents say, add a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 1.5 hours to the journey and also present their own risks including landslides and “recurrent” fallen trees.
‘No way out’
Having recently received their rates notices, residents have banded together in saying Council’s response is just not good enough, with the Griggs Road closure not only adding extra petrol costs and inconvenience to their day to day lives (complicating everything from mail delivery to rubbish collection), but also prompting serious safety concerns.
Sheep farmers Frank and Maria Reinisch, who live on nearby Mayberrys Road, “have to” use Griggs Road to get to Leongatha to buy groceries and access health services.
Maria panicked when she realised she’d run out of blood pressure tablets last week and was facing a 50 minute drive to the pharmacy via the alternative route.
She worries about the extra time it would take an ambulance to reach the farm in an emergency.
“I’d better not have a heart attack!” she said, also expressing concern about a “very sick” neighbour who recently had triple heart bypass surgery.
Those who own livestock are also frustrated with the Council’s approach to the situation.
Beef farmer Yvonne Lindsay, who’s lived on Griggs Road for the past ten years, says she needs the road fixed, or at least made safe to use in the short term, so that trucks can access her property to pick up cattle when they’re ready to sell at the end of spring.
“If we can’t get trucks in to transport our stock, we can’t sell them. And it’s more difficult to get in feed and fertiliser,” she said.
“Last year, we ran out of water out here, and if that happens again, we won’t be able to keep them alive either.”
What the residents want from Council is simple, says Yvonne: “Come out and damn well fix it.”
“We want them to realise the impact this is having on all the families. It’s unacceptable,” she says.
“People with babies and kids; people with horses; elderly people – they’re scared because fire season’s coming and no one knows where to go or if they’ll even be able to get out.
“Even just getting the kids to school, what happens if there’s another slip and you’ve got the kids in the back of the car?”
‘Never should have happened’
According to Yvonne, Council has failed to respond to “constant” calls for action to prevent landslips on Griggs Road.
“We’ve been saying it for months, that it needs the drains cleaned out, and this [the landslip] would never have happened if they’d done that,” she said.
“Now we’re suffering because they didn’t do their jobs.
“Two people who had their properties up for sale have had to withdraw them because of the lack of road access.”
Yvonne says Council contractors have cleaned out the roadside drains since the landslip, with their most recent work being done last Wednesday, September 18; but when the Sentinel-Times attended the site last Thursday, September 19, water could still be seen collecting in them.
“The whole road’s like that,” Yvonne said.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve called to ask them to do something about maintaining it properly.
“I once asked them if they could trim some of the overhanging trees, and the answer I got was, ‘if we start on one, where do we finish?’ They just put it in the too hard basket.”
Yvonne and the Reinischs believe they’re getting a raw deal because they’re at the “arse-end” of the shire’s boundary.
“They [Council] hardly ever come out this far. They think they can just ignore us, and it’s always been like that, except when it comes time to collect the rates,” Maria said.
“We warned them it [the roadside] was slipping when we had that whole week of rain – over 200mms – about a month ago. And no one even bothered to come down, until it was physically impossible to get through,” Yvonne said.
“Now they’re spending all this money on Leongatha, on things in the middle of town, instead of looking after the rate payers.”
No timeframe for repairs
Council could not put a date on when Griggs Road would be reopened when questioned by the Sentinel-Times last week, describing the fix as far from a simple process, but one that “will be prioritised due to the delays being experienced”.
Repair works are being funded by the Federal Government’s Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, and as such “must be contracted out,” said a Council spokesperson.
Council is “sympathetic to resident’s concerns” and “has been working with specialist engineers to get Griggs Road open as soon as possible,” but the process “will likely take some time to complete,” the spokesperson said, adding that emergency services had been “advised of the road conditions”.