It’s meant to be an $86 million road to ease traffic congestion in rapidly growing Queanbeyan but it is turning into a political problem for the city’s administrator and a source of contention for locals who say the bypass is being built only to pander to developers.
The federal Department of the Environment and Energy on Tuesday approved with conditions the controversial Ellerton Drive Extension, the final green light needed for the 4.6km road which will bypass the central business district on the eastern side of Queanbeyan, running through bushland and crossing the Queanbeyan River.
A three-person panel led by Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council administrator Tim Overall approved the road locally but Mr Overall, alone, gave the go-ahead for the council to contribute $36 million to the project.
The federal and state governments are also each providing $25 million. Tenders for the road are yet to be called.
Greens politicians have called for the road to be stopped until a business case is presented, concerned about environmental damage and transparency of the process.
Tree-clearing along the route started on Thursday with protesters soon on the scene, saying the road should not have been considered for approval until a new council was elected in September this year, with 11 councillors due to be voted in.
“We don’t have a council anymore. It’s just a one-man band,” local resident Wayne Brewer said.
The clearing of trees and termite mounds in the first instance has to be restricted to January, after which the resident Rosenberg’s monitor lizards start to lay their eggs in the mounds.
Among the conditions attached by the federal environment department was a limit on the amount of native bushland and plants to be cleared.
The extension runs from the end of Ellerton Drive, near Yass Road/Bungendore Road, in Queanbeyan East to the Old Cooma Road/Edwin Land Parkway intersection in Karabar..
Eden-Monaro federal MP Dr Mike Kelly is among those who have been campaigning against the road, which is expected to pass right past his house.
Dr Kelly said he had always been upfront about his personal interest in the road but was also concerned about potential damage to a “delicate river corridor” and the manner in which the link was approved.
He said the State Government should have appointed a caretaker not an ” unelected political contestant” in charge of the council until the elections were held.
“I don’t think there is any doubt this is a controversial project and needs to be subject to a democratic process,” he said.
Those concerns were echoed by former councillor and Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council mayoral candidate, Brian Brown.
“At this stage we should be in caretaker mode, not going gangbusters to destroy the bush land before the community can have a say on whether or not that’s the option they want to choose,” Mr Brown said.
Mr Overall is on leave and unavailable for comment but Queanbeyan-Palerang general manager Peter Tegart said the road had been subject to other resolutions of the previous Queanbeyan City Council which approved studies and concepts for the route.
While the road design had not been approved before the forced merger, the administrator had the capacity to consider any project that was ongoing.
“There’s complete legal legitimacy around that decision,” Mr Tegart said.
The corridor for the Ellerton Drive Extension had been identified on council maps, plans and strategies since the 1970s and supported to some degree by eight previous councils, it says.
Critics of the project including Queanbeyan Conservation Alliance spokesman Graham Franklin-Browne doubt the road will divert traffic out of the heart of the city, particularly trucks.
“They say it’s been on the map for 30 years but just because a decision is 30-years-old doesn’t make it a good decision,” Mr Franklin-Browne said.
Protesters including Frank Briggs maintain the road is being built as a link to the proposed Jumping Creek 300-lot housing development on the eastern side of the Queanbeyan River, south of Greenleigh.
“If they want a better Queanbeyan, they should be concentrating on high-density housing in the city to bring it to life,” Mr Briggs said.
Mr Franklin-Browne said the Jumping Creek development would harm a unique escarpment between the coast and the inland.
Mr Tegart confirmed the Jumping Creek development relied on the EDE being built.
However, he said the housing development was not approved and would need to be put through a whole new planning process.
He said the council had a wider road network plan that also included the upgrade of intersections and the EDE was not the sole answer to traffic congestion for the city.
Article source: http://watoday.com.au/act-news/the-ellerton-drive-extension-that-promises-to-free-up-queanbeyans-roads-but-is-splitting-the-community-and-putting-pressure-on-tim-overall-20170112-gtq6x3.html