Breakthough for winter diversion decision

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Shire president Pam Townshend has brokered a political solution to the contentious winter diversion track, despite two of her own supporters voting against the item.

Before a full house on Wednesday night, councillors workshopped a rare “blank canvas” resolution to finish the riverside track.

Ratepayers would stump up about $200,000 for the solution by buying an historic strip of land on the river once owned by Aboriginal heritage icon Sam Isaacs.

But Section 18 Aboriginal clearance would be sought first, before comprehensive steps to rehabilitate the area allegedly damaged during premature construction in 2016.

The council committed to forming a working group featuring an uneasy alliance of vested interests, including the Friends of the Cape-to-Cape Track and local Wadandi traditional owners.

However, council newcomers Naomi Godden and deputy Shire president Julia Meldrum voted against the item during long-winded and messy proceedings.

“I don’t support the trail,” Cr Godden said

“I don’t have the full information I need.

“It’s not actually as clear cut as an ad in a newspaper or a petition,” she said.

“There are community members who don’t want this track to go ahead and I represent them. I am here to make sure their views are heard too.”

The pair sought to introduce amendments to Cr Townshend’s notion that failed to win support.

Cr Meldrum said the incomplete Nature Conservation Margaret River foreshore assessment made it impossible to support the original iteration of the diversion, the final version envisaged by Cr Townshend on Wednesday night as a “goat track”.

Crs Godden and Meldrum, with Crs Townshend and Mike Smart, triggered fury among Capes walkers last month by pausing the project to investigate an alternative connection through vineyards and rural properties which the Times understands proved impratical.

Councillors Peter Lane and Pauline McLeod praised the breakthrough, though Cr Lane detailed his environmental credentials at length – including key roles in the Yarragadee, 10 Mile Brook and Osmington coal mine community campaigns.

“I left that last meeting at Cowaramup more than a little upset,” he said.

“(The leading four councillors) said in essence those who were supporting the track were willing to damage the environment.”

Cr Lane also rejected aspersions about a similar lack of respect for local Noongars.

Cr Smart won boos from the crowd – with various factions applauding or muttering after every speaker on the night – when he noted some of the emails from the Friends “did have a racist tone to them, which is disappointing”.

A report was ordered from the independently-chaired working group by May.

Section 18 clearance would be sought for the remaining work, though instructions to rehabilitate allegedly damaged sections would also have to wait for Federal Aboriginal clearance.

A 900-signature petition calling for the track to be finished was also lodged at the meeting by Cr McLeod on behalf of the Friends and their supporters.

Outside the meeting, conservationists and track-walkers alike said the proposed working group would struggle to get up because of the recent acrimonious debate.

Cr Godden later flagged multiple notices of motion for the April 11 meeting,

including for the Shire to formally apologise to a wide array of WA Noongar groups for damage caused during the diversion’s construction.

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