Winter trail in limbo

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
2017: Ray Swarts lists concerns with the winter diversion path plan, looked on by Bill Webb and Neroli Carlton.
Camera Icon2017: Ray Swarts lists concerns with the winter diversion path plan, looked on by Bill Webb and Neroli Carlton. Credit: Declan Bush/Declan BushPicture: Declan Bush

The contentious winter diversion project to help Capes trekkers cross the river during high rainfall remains in limbo, with crucial Aboriginal heritage permissions not yet lodged more than 18 months after the last council decision.

Strong lobbying from key stakeholders from the Friends of the Cape to Cape Track in 2018 warned a big funding grant for the project was in jeopardy but Friends chairman Kevin Lange told the Times this week the money was still available.

The delay relates to the final alignment of the diversion — rebranded as the South of the River Community Trail — remaining unresolved as the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River continues to work with stakeholders and Aboriginal heritage experts.

To advance the project, the Shire bought a sliver of private land to facilitate an easier crossing than a contentious boardwalk through sensitive melaleuca wetland, previously proposed by former Shire chief Gary Evershed.

Shire acting infrastructure director David Nicholson said the application for Aboriginal heritage permissions would be lodged as soon as an alignment was agreed by stakeholders, which the Times understands included Wadandi elders previously not keen on the trail.

“The Shire is (also) awaiting WA Planning Commission subdivision approval before purchase of the land can be finalised,” Mr Nicholson said.

“The Shire is also in dialogue with local knowledge holders about the recommended realignment of sections of the trail.”

Conservationists were central to the drama around the trail project, exposing initial Shire failings on Aboriginal heritage assessment when work started without Section 18C permits.

But Margaret River Regional Environment Centre co-ordinator Peta Goodwin told the Times the group had no immediate concerns.

Mr Lange was also satisfied the Shire was working to finish the trail.

However, working party chairman Stuart Hicks, pictured, said he was frustrated at the length of time taken given the project’s initial urgency.

The former South West Development Commission chairman was called in to arbitrate the dispute in 2018, and developed the A Way Forward document to guide completion of the project.

“I am disappointed that it is taking so long,” he said.

“But the health of the river and respect for Aboriginal heritage are pre-eminent and cannot be compromised.”

Mr Hicks said the working group set up in March 2018 “made a superhuman effort to put its report to council by the end of May 2018, to reflect (the) council’s extreme urgency as instructed”.

“The working party’s achievement was greater because it comprised representatives from parts of the Margaret River community that had been at loggerheads over the development of the track over a prolonged period,” he said.

The Shire said the working group’s report recommendations would guide final construction of the trail.

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