Groves Weir Rd Bridge causes headache for council and Colbinabbin farmers

By Lachlan Durling

A LITTLE bridge that means a lot to Colbinabbin farmers has been given a stay of execution after calls from farmers and a state member have been heard by council.

Campaspe Shire Council proposed reducing a bridge on Groves Weir Rd from 6.1m wide to 4.8m, a move farmers said would cripple their operations.

It came after an independent report in May 2018 found cracking in the structure that had "critically undermined" the bridge's ability to support heavy loads.

A 12 tonne load limit is currently in place as the report also stated that the bridge was not fit for heavy vehicles not only in its current state but also in as-new condition.

However, the residents on Groves Weir Rd believe the bridge has always, and still can, support heavier loads in its current state.

And they want to see evidence to the contrary.

“We as ratepayers have asked for proof of the damage or cracks that are in this bridge ever since the restrictions have been put on it. And we are yet to see any proof that there are cracks under it,” farmer Bryon McIntosh said.

The current load limit requires farmers to detour via Kennedy Rd to the west or Guy Rd to the east, more than tripling the journey for some farmers.

And, they say, adding more risk to every journey, with bridges at intersections impeding vision and creating crests difficult for machinery and trucks to navigate.

“For us, there are animals to move, machinery to move and we always try to do this in the most efficient way,” he said.

“I did speak to the chief executive and he did return a letter to me — in it he mentioned safety. Safety by what? Making us use the Bendigo-Murchison Rd with machinery, I don’t think so.

“For us the extra travel would equate to about 14km from our nearest farm, instead of 3km. We move approximately 2000 sheep up and down that road to our shearing shed.

“Try forcing those sheep through a 14ft gap, is what the proposal is, instead of currently 20ft.

“Or forcing sheep on a main road, that is a dangerous issue.”

A nine-page report was put before councillors at the February council meeting that outlined concerns of farmers as well as budgetary constraints.

Specifically, the report stated a two-lane replacement could set a more than $70 million precedent for Campaspe Shire's bridge renewal program, bringing another 45 bridges up to two lanes and load capacity when they are due for renewal — for a nominal number of vehicles every day.

Due to the low levels of traffic using the Groves Weir Bridge and the cost to infill parts of the weir to accommodate the wider approach to the bridge, Campaspe Shire planners recommended a single lane replacement for the one-and-a-half lane bridge.

Asset manager Richard Conway said council was at risk if it built a like-for-like replacement.

“Building to anything less than the Australian standard introduces an ongoing risk to council. A risk which is not extinguished until the bridge is brought back to standard,” he said in the report.

Another local farmer, William Pepperell, said replacing the existing bridge with a single-lane, 4.8m bridge would force farmers on to other roads, possibly dirt roads, which would require more maintenance from council and from farmers for their machinery.

“If this proposal was passed it would be, at the very least, an additional 10km for farmers and contractors to travel,” he said.

“They would be travelling over three extra bridges and on gravel roads, this would surely cost council more in maintenance after years.

“This bridge is used by all locals and travellers including the school bus, photographers, campers, hunters and will be reduced to something deemed not fit for purpose.”

However, councillors were wary of approving construction of a two-lane bridge due to cost to ratepayers, low traffic levels on Groves Weir Rd and the capacity of a Goulburn-Murray Water-owned bridge also on the road.

Councillors moved an amended motion to complete an updated condition report on the bridge and work with GMW to determine the timeline and specifications of the nearby bridge.

“I pass this amendment on the fact that we need a condition assessment of council’s bridge and to know GMW’s intent for their bridge,” Cr Zobec said.

Councillors agreed that it was frivolous to upgrade council’s infrastructure to a two-lane structure if GMW’s could not support a similar capacity.

“GMW manages two bridges over the Waranga Western Canal between Groves Weir Rd and the Rushworth-Colbinabbin Rd in Colbinabbin,” GMW general manager Daniel Irwin said.

“We are actively working alongside Campaspe Shire Council on its proposal to upgrade its bridge at Groves Weir Rd, including setting an appropriate load limit.

“When it comes to upgrading assets across the entire delivery network, GMW is ensuring we match the right maintenance with the right level of investment and provide the best value for our customers now and for the future.”

The main thing Bryon hoped council and GMW would note was the permanence of the decision.

“If council decides to replace our bridge with a smaller bridge they are not looking to the future of our industry and the next generation of farmers,” he said.

“To us, this is there for the next 100-150 years.”