Highway splits our community

By DAVID BANCROFT

dbancroft@dailyexaminer.com.au

MICHAEL and Billy-Jo Tarrant agonised over their decision to sell their South Grafton home and move into the country.

They were going to be in debt for the rest of their lives, but wanted somewhere quiet and rural to raise their two children, Brody Liam, 6, and Kelsey Jade, 2.

But three weeks after they moved into their older-style farmhouse, complete with 12 foot ceilings, they feel their setting could be shattered by a proposed Pacific Highway redevelopment.

The Tarrant family moved to a property at McLennans Lane, about five kilometres south of Ulmarra, and fear that Option A (the orange option) of the Roads and Traffic Authority's four proposals for the Wells Crossing to Iluka Road upgrade will bring the highway to within a short distance from their $235,000 home.

"I am going to be in debt for the rest of my life because I was trying to do something better for my family, and then this happens," Mr Tarrant said.

"I am in debt now and can't get out of it. Compensation wouldn't help. I bought there for what was there, but now that might all change."

The Tarrants intend to put in objections to Option A, but might have a fight on their hands if they are to convince the people of Pillar Valley that Option A is not the way to go.

On Thursday night 87 Pillar Valley residents ? most of the population ? met to discuss their concerns about the three other options, which all run closer to the coast, and voted unanimously to support Option A.

Spokesman Phil Hazell said none of the three proposed 'coastal' options made economic sense. He said traffic surveys showed about 70 per cent of the highway traffic in the Clarence Valley was 'local' traffic, meaning the massive coastal highway construction would cater for only about 30 per cent of the current highway traffic.

The remainder, he said, would still use the existing highway or other local roads.

Also, the existing highway would be handed over to the Clarence Valley Council, meaning ratepayers would become responsible for its maintenance and any future upgrades.

But Mr Hazell said the most urgent issue for Pillar Valley residents was to have the exhibition period extended past the current November 18 deadline.

"It has huge implications for the Valley," he said.

"The economic cost to Grafton if it was completely bypassed would be enormous.

"The coastal options provide no benefit to the community whatsoever. We (Valley residents) have been given 25 days to respond to something it took the RTA nine months to prepare.

"The options were supposed to have been released in June or July.

"We simply don't have enough time to respond properly."

Mr Hazell has already approached the Ombudsman to outline his concerns about the lack of time available to respond.

"They said it could be a case that warrants further investigation," he said.

Mr Tarrant said he could see no sense in the orange option as it was the most costly, went through prime agricultural land, was subject to flooding and posed geotechnical issues. The two men agreed, however, there was a need for the community to be better informed about the proposals.

A meeting to protest against some of the proposed route options will be held at the Maclean Civic Centre from 10am today.



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