Councillors want more winter track options

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

A decision on Wednesday night will force a stay of execution for the Shire’s unfinished winter diversion project as councillors call in all parties to discuss a different way to give Capes walkers a safe winter river-crossing option.

A fiery meeting at Cowaramup’s Duggan Pavilion heard widespread complaints from residents after Shire president Pam Townshend and other majority councillors called for more time to investigate track options away from the river, using firebreaks and private properties instead of the nearly finished track marred by a lack of consultation and Federal heritage permits.

In moving the item, Cr Townshend said there were unexplored options that would help safeguard the river and pay respect to traditional owners who didn’t want tourists trekking through sacred areas.

“In my deepest heart, I can’t vote for a recommendation without exploring the other alternatives,” she said.

She told a 50-strong crowd that a confidential Aboriginal heritage report showed Noongars only gave the route a tick because they otherwise faced major intrusions such as a proposed $400,000 suspension bridge.

Noongars only approved it “because we’re kind of stuck with it — that’s what the consultation was about”.

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River previously acknowledged it started work on the diversion without consulting the Wadandi or applying for Federal Section 18 clearance.

Cr Townshend also said the project didn’t consider the river’s health, which was highlighted by ally Julia Meldrum.

Citing a December Times report about the river in “serious decline,” Cr Meldrum said the Shire’s community strategic plan 2036 also placed environmental custodianship as a top priority, which the diversion project failed to adequately address.

“Our environment is in decline,” she said. “We must make changes to our decision making.”

Although councillor Ian Earl was the only member to vote against the alternative, colleagues Peter Lane and Pauline McLeod spoke strongly against the change of heart.

“To say I find these discussions frustrating is an understatement,” Cr Lane said.

“The genie is out of the bottle. (The track is) going to be used.”

Despite his green credentials, Cr Lane urged members to finish the track because the only way to minimise future environmental damage was to manage the track and its riparian environment.

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