MAYOR Maurice Collison and Council’s General Manager, Steve McDonald met with A Current Affair yesterday to discuss the newly built Merriwa to Willow Tree Road failing and also their plans for the Scone Airport development.
Mayor Collison unreservedly apologised for the state of the road, but was unable to offer any explanation as to how it occurred and said he believed the airport development would be successful.
“Its very disappointing as a Councillor and now as the mayor of the Upper Hunter Shire Council, as one of my first jobs is now to try and sort this out,” Mayor Collison said.
“It’s just unfortunate and no excuses,” he said.
“It’s a breakdown in some engineering I believe and the day to day running of the project and all we can say is were very very sorry,” he said.
The Mayor said he will work alongside the General Manager and Councillors to prioritise the reopening of the road.
“That’s all I can do form this Mayoral chair is say sorry on behalf of the Councillors and now its our job to work with the GM to find out exactly what went wrong in the operational side and do our very best,” said Mayor Collison.
“I’ll be fighting to get that road open even on a temporary basis ASAP so at least a single lane of trucks can get through, that’s my objective,” he said.
When pressed on how such a large project went wrong throughout the duration, Mayor Collison said, “that’s very much operational, you’ll have to ask the GM…anyone below the GM I can’t speak for”.
The General Manager, Steve McDonald was not able to offer an answer at this stage.
“With that [road] were going through a process, obviously procedural fairness needs to take place but yes were reviewing that whole process and those people responsible have to basically show cause,” said Mr McDonald.
“We’ve got to make sure a fair and procedural process is followed but basically at the end of the day we’ll make sure people are accountable,” he said.
Mr McDonald also said that Council has engaged technical people from outside of the organisation to help design the rectification road works.
“They’ll oversee that whole process with us and we’ll make sure that we engaged someone externally when we tender this project out to be completed,” said Mr McDonald.
“Were trying to do this work as quickly as we can,” he said.The General Manager also went on to explain the road may not have been built in the correct place.
“The intent of the road was to be built into the hill so that was the originally intention, then obviously they’ve hit hard rock and other reasons, this is what were trying to get to the bottom of,” said Mr McDonald.
“Why the road deviated from where it was supposed to go and if it did deviate, why wasn’t specification followed?” he said.
The state and federal governments contributed grant funding to the road however, grant money may not be released to Council, if the road has not been acquitted as being built to specification.
The Mayor revealed not all grant money had been released.
“We’re not sure whether our politicians will feel sympathetic or not, there’s still $2.5 money sitting, which we can’t get out until its signed off and complete,” Mayor Collison said.
“But yes its a lot of money but what options have I got as a Mayor and the Councillors, we’ve got no option but to do it if were going to fix this massive problem,” he said.
In terms of the airport, the Mayor said he had always supported the development, but conceded the runaway had failed since it was redone in 2012, for which the Council is still repaying the loan.
The General Manager of Council in 2012, was Daryl Dutton, who has been vocal about the amount of money proposed to be spent on the airport development and has consistently raised concerns about the ongoing maintenance of any infrastructure at the airport due to the airfield being built on black soil and the runway needing to be redone every few years.
Mr Dutton has consistently asked what the ongoing costs will be of maintaining a more extensive air side infrastructure.
“There was money spent on that runway in 2012 which has failed already and I believe that was done by Council contractors back then,” said Mayor Collison.
“All we can do is learn by our mistakes but we cant learn our mistakes with the ratepayers money,” he said.
“It’s not just a little muck up of $100 its millions of dollars,” he said.
However, the Mayor said he has always been optimistic about the airport development.
“I’m quite confident in the airport project, if the independent review come backs satisfactory, I’m very confident and I have been right through,” said Mayor Collison.
“Look when I first got on council, the old GM, Wayne Beggdood and myself drove to Temora and had a look, and went right through their business books and I believe then it was $40,000 per anum…we didn’t pluck those figures out of the sky, it was on paperwork,” he said.
“$40,000 at Termora, we’ve now got a highway going to Sydney and it’s not far, so I believe Scone’s in a pretty good spot to have an aviation centre with some of the best war planes, probably around the world, for people to come and have a look at,” he said.
Mayor Collison said Scone was lucky to strike a deal with plane-owner Ross Pay and that he is prepared to accept responsibility if “hes proved wrong”.
“We’ve come up with an agreement with Ross Pay, that wasn’t just between him, that went though a proper process throughout the whole area,” Mayor Collison said.
“There’s probably no one in Australia that has better planes to show so in turn, yes hell have his warbirds in our museum but aren’t we so lucky to have him even offer those planes worth millions and millions of dollars where the public can actually pay?” he said.
“I believe the public could be able to go and pay and fly in some of them,” he said.
“I’m very confident and I could be proved wrong and ill be the first to put my hand up if I am,” he said.
The A Current Affair Episode will air tomorrow night at 7pm on Channel Nine.