Merriwa residents call out Council on road progress

Filed in Just In by February 24, 2021

LAST week, geotechnical engineers revealed increasing rotational failure, tension cracks, pipe erosion and land slopes along the Merriwa to Willow Tree Road, rendering it unusable for up to three years.

Michael Gawn, Principal Geotechnical Engineer at Douglas Partners and Nicole Bailey from New South Wales Public Works Advisory told Merriwa residents three major problem areas inclusive of nine high risk geotechnical hazards pose an “unacceptable risk to life” for motorists.

Michael Gawn from Douglas partners told the Merriwa community three major problem areas inclusive of nine high risk hazards have been identified since investigations began in April 2020. Photo: Douglas Partners.

The engineers fielded a range of questions from the Merriwa public, who wanted to know when or if the road would reopen during reconstruction works.

Gerard Morton, Project Manager for GHD, who will be undertaking the road and geotechnical design for the rectification works, said the three-year timeframe may be reduced depending on the result of concept designs, which are due to be complete in August, 2021.

“We have been asked to look at that, we need to understand more about the site,” said Mr Morton.

“We have to look at the design on how we position the road,” he said.

Nicole Bailey said three metres of fill was placed on top of the original road, which will need to be assessed before being re-opened to motorists.

“The concept report will give us a couple of different options to consider from the speed of construction and cost of construction,” said Ms Bailey.

Photo: Douglas Partners.

The Road Maintenance

Unsurprised with the news, Merriwa residents Richard Wilkinson and Mark Staric told Council to assess the roads that will be used as alternative routes as the are unfit to drive on and will worsen with increased traffic.

“Merriwa to Scone Road needs to be fixed, given the time period involved to get the Merriwa to Willow Tree Road to standard, Scone to Merriwa is going to be shut before that, there’s no shoulder . . . in a semi trailer or a B-double that will pull you off the side of the road completely,” said Richard Wilkinson.

“I grew up on Dales Creek Road and its the worst I’ve seen it in thirty odd years . . .  now we’ve got anyone north of about Coolah, on Mount Station Road, Middle Creek Road and Willow Tree Road all using that, plus the trucks and semi trailers to get markets to Tamworth, dangerous for starters,” said Mark Staric.

“And Scone to Merriwa road is no better, thats a bloody disgrace too, narrow, twice the amount of traffic . . . have you done a risk assessment on those hazards?” Mr Staric questioned.

Greg McDonald, Upper Hunter Shire General Manager, who fielded all questions on behalf of Council, admitted the statements about road safety and maintenance were, “a fair call.”

Photo: Douglas Partners.

“We haven’t done it [assessments] yet though,” he said, before referring to Sam Wooden, Council Works Engineer.

“Sam are you able to comment on the grading program?” 

“I don’t have the program in front of me but it’s on a cycle, so it’s done every twelve to 18 months, depending on the class of the road depends on how often it gets graded,” said Sam Wooden.

“We’ve got a single budget for all of that maintenance, so if we do more frequency on some roads, it’s got to come away from other roads, we don’t have money just to throw additional money in,” said Mr McDonald.

The Money

Mr McDonald confirmed Council is now insured has an insurance for the rectification works through obtaining independent contractors however, he did not know the exact insurance figure.

“Council is insured, that’s being processed at the moment, I don’t know the outcome of that answer,” said Mr McDonald.

“Going forward, we’ll be engaging contractors rather than doing it ourselves . . . Council won’t be project managing ourselves and contractors will have their own insurance for failures,” he said.

“I don’t have a figure,” he said.

Mr McDonald said he could not provide an exact budget for the rectification works until concept designs were finalised but said it would be at a least $5 million.

“More than five million, as a ball park figure,” he said.

The Reports

Residents asked if they will see the original Geotech report and outcome of the investigation currently being conducted by the Office of Local Government.

“Once they finish their investigation, their report will be open and I don’t see why the documents they’ve looked at won’t be available,” said Mr McDonald.

“There’s nothing in that Geotech report from a laymen’s point of view that you’d understand  . . . it’s a series of assessments,” he said.

“That section 430 report will be on display.”

Mr McDonald also assured residents that no project funds had been misappropriated.

“The OLG will take that into consideration and they will investigate the full project so that will be part of their remit but there has been nothing that I’ve seen to date that would even suggest that there was misappropriation of funds, it was all put into the project,” said Mr McDonald.

The Trust

Towards the end of the public meeting, Mike Gildo and Chris Kemp addressed the elephant in the room, both receiving a round of applause from his fellow Merriwa residents.

“Through your introductions, you’ve explained all your knowledge in designing and construction road works, I want to wind the clock back a bit and ask, with all this expertise available to the engineers . . . why did the engineers who were responsible for making this road and why would the project managers oversee the production of the road, allowed to make the road as it was?” questioned Mr Gildo.

The downside of the road failures that are occurring relate to the fill and the failures occurring on the upside of the road, carry as a consequence of cutting more steeply into the mountain. Photo: Douglas Partners.

“You had the Council workers working onsite and contractors working on site, all pointing out overfill on the side of the hill saying it wasn’t going to work and look it hasn’t worked, so why was it allowed to happen like this to start with? he said.

“How are you going to gain our confidence that you’re not going to do the same again and totally stuff it up again, costing us millions once again?

“At one stage we used to have a road over that hill . . . look what we’ve got now? Nothing.”

General Manager Greg McDonald partly addressed his questions, assuring residents Council has the “right team on board.”

“I think this Council has been pretty open previous that errors were made,” said Mr McDonald.

“I walked into this organisation four weeks ago to try and fix this problem and I’m here tonight taking the flack, trying to give you confidence that we’ve got the right team on board,” he said.

“Theres a myriad of issues that you’ve all raised tonight, that were trying to balance with a very limited funding arrangement.

“But we’re trying to do the best for you,” Mr McDonald said.

Chris Kemp explained to Mr McDonald, Council’s actions to rectify the mistakes have been too slow, at the expense of the Merriwa community.

“There was always chance of a landslide in this project, we’re not stupid but we’re twelve months down the road form when it happened and we’re just started getting the wheels turning, this should have happened nine months ago,” said Mr Kemp.

“The whole management of this Council has been going downhill, I know you’ve just joined on but this Council has been heading for a brick wall a long time and this is just proof of whats been going on,” he said.

“The action of getting stuff done is too slow because it’s costing everyone in this room a lot of money,” Mr Kemp said.

Presentations delivered by Public Works, Douglas Partners and GHD on the Merriwa to Willow Tree Road can be found on Council’s website.

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