By Raquel Mustillo
WATTLE Range mayor Des Noll has lambasted an interstate campaign focussed on upgrading the Green Triangle region’s key freight routes as “Victorian-centric” and warned unless a change of direction occurs it should be “scrapped”.
Mr Noll took aim at the Green Triangle Region Freight Action Plan, an initiative involving South Australian and Victorian border councils, the timber and freight industries and the Port of Portland.
Among the key actions of the plan is targeting State and Federal Government funding for road improvements to address emerging capacity constraints for transport associated with the forest and freight industries.
Mr Noll’s comments follow Glenelg Shire Council advising Wattle Range it will not financially commit to a co-funding contribution to upgrade Border Road to a sealed standard, which is estimated to cost $4m.
The Federal Government has provided $2m towards the project, with the funding application based on a partnership with West Wimmera for a 1.8km stretch, Glenelg Shire for a 14km section and Wattle Range for a 15.8km length.
While Wattle Range and West Wimmera have committed to the program, Mr Noll said Glenelg Shire was unable to commit to a financial contribution.
Mr Noll said discussions with the Portland-based council had not been fruitful and claimed further discussions with the Green Triangle Region Freight Action Plan chair Karen Stephens – who is also Glenelg Shire Council’s deputy mayor – were “ignored”.
“A request to have the Border Road topic placed on the agenda at a stakeholders meeting – Wattle Range Council being a stakeholder – was denied,” he said.
“A response from the chair was that Border Road is not a priority. “I made a request to the chair for a copy of the Green Triangle Action Plan charter/terms of reference, but this request has not been forthcoming.”
Mr Noll expressed disappointment over what he termed as a lack of a cooperation considering the Federal Government’s major contribution towards the project.
“It is not in the spirit of what the Green Triangle Freight Action Plan stands for and was originally designed to achieve,” he said.
“Clearly, it has become a Victorian-centric entity and simply lost its way as a joint South Australian and Victorian initiative.
“If this is the continued direction of the Green Triangle Regional Freight Action Plan Implementation Monitoring Group, then I am calling for it to be scrapped.”
In a joint statement emailed to Wattle Range an hour before Tuesday night’s meeting, the Glenelg Shire Council and the Green Triangle Freight Action Plan Committee said they were “incredibly disappointed and disheartened that the reputation of committee and council had been brought into disrepute as a result of misleading and false information”.
“Wattle Range Council submitted a $2m application for a 50/50 co-contribution towards a $4m project to upgrade 15.8km of Border Road,” the statement said.
“However, Wattle Range submitted this application without seeking formal consent from Glenelg Shire.
“If Wattle Range had simply communicated prior to this application, an agreement position may have been achieved.”
The statement said Mr Noll’s comments on the overall vision, purpose and success of the freight action plan was of most concern.
“The Green Triangle Freight Action Plan is highly regarded at all levels of government and is considered a ‘stand out’ model, with the methodology being rolled out across regional Australia,” the statement said.
“Based on the ongoing achievements and funding successes that the Green Triangle Freight Action Plan has secured in recent years, it is quite clear that it is meeting all the goals that it was designed for and even more.”
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COUNCIL DESCOPES ROAD UPGRADE
WATTLE Range Council will descope a proposed $4m upgrade for Border Road and request $1.7m of Federal Government grant funds be redirected after Glenelg Shire rejected to co-contribute to the project.
Staff will apply to redirect a majority of the $2m Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program funds towards upgrades towards Tower Road, a local road between Casterton Road and the Riddoch Highway.
If permitted, council will also proceed with upgrades on a 1.8km section of Border Road from Dergholm Road, estimated to cost $500,000 which will be split between the Federal funding, Wattle Range and West Wimmera Shire.
Elected members backed a staff recommendation to redirect the funds to Tower Road with an additional budget allocation of $875,000.
In a letter to council, Glenelg Shire and the Green Triangle Freight Action Plan Committee rejected claims Border Road was a priority or critical freight road.
“The Green Triangle Freight Action Plan Committee has a ‘scale of categories’ with roads across the region bundled into categories ranging from number one being the highest priority through to number twelve being the least significant,” the letter said.
“The Border Road sits within a ‘group of roads’ at number four, therefore it is not of a high or immediate priority.”
But Wattle Range Council chief executive Ben Gower said the road, which runs north/south along the South Australian and Victorian border, was a regionally significant route.
Mr Gower said the road predominately carries logging trucks from the adjoining plantation forests to processing facilities near Mount Gambier and to the Port of Portland.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Sorby Adams Ward councillor Deb Agnew sought an explanation for the “contradictory statements” made by Wattle Range and Glenelg Shire about the funding agreement and application.
Mr Gower said given the relatively short notice of the Federal Government funding round, Wattle Range did not have time to seek a formal co-contribution commitment from the adjoining Victorian councils.
“Requests to do so were submitted in parallel with the application in May 2020,” he said. “There was a very, very short delay in requesting their consent because of the timeframes associated with the grant.
“We were right at the beginning of Covid going off the charts back in this timeframe and the government threw an extra $500m into the kitty for this program.
“We didn’t have the luxury of a full council cycle to get a formal resolution from the Glenelg Shire before we put this in.”
Mr Gower said Wattle Range, West Wimmera and Glenelg Shire staff had met on site to discuss the program prior to the application being lodged and reaffirmed its regional significance.
“I have no idea why they claim they have not received our letters – they were sent electronically and in the mail,” he said. “We requested to meet with them on site in Glenelg and the answer was ‘no, you’re not welcome’.
“I am not sure what is going on behind the scenes here and I would love to know what the nature of the problem is so we can find a solution to it.”
Glenelg Shire was contacted for comment.