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Forgotten Valley residents fight to keep Settlers Rd open as Council eye major year long works

Mar 26, 2023

Macdonald Valley – often referred to by its residents, for good reason, as the Forgotten Valley – are fighting to keep Settlers Road open, preferably with an alternative bridge, while major road and bridge works lasting a year are carried out by Hawkesbury Council.

 

The repairs to heritage Thomas James Bridge – half of which has been unusable for a year due to a collapse of stone supports and a section of road – plus the landslide above the section of road closer to the ferry, are likely to take at least a year to complete and the Council says the road will need to be closed.

 

So far there is no firm timetable for the repairs but residents have been told by Hawkesbury Council June could be the start point.

 

The Thomas James Bridge on Settlers Rd has been down to one lane for a whole year after torrential rain brought down part of the mountain above it, and the landslide just around the corner near the ferry also occurred in February 2022, so damage to the road there will also be repaired.

Half of historic Thomas Jane Bridge has been closed for over a year following torrential rain damage…

If Settlers Rd is closed without any alternative temporary bridge, it will mean a very long drive for residents via St Albans to the Webbs Creek ferry, on poor quality roads.

 

School children, local businesses, workers, postal and water deliveries – all will have to use the long way round, and the scenario is also likely to lead to long queues at Webbs Creek ferry, with Wisemans Ferry not accessible if Settlers Rd is closed.

 

Hawkesbury Council has set up a group, called the Thomas James Bridge Advisory Committee (TJBAC), to represent residents, and the Macdonald Valley Association, the main community group in the area, is playing an active part in that.

 

Confidential concerns

 

But there is a concern amongst some residents around Hawkesbury Council’s demand that many elements of the situation are kept confidential, and so hidden from public or media scrutiny.

 

According to Macdonald Valley Association members, the council requires, “a confidentiality agreement be signed by the committee members as some of the detailed items are confidential”.

 

The council has presented two options for the reconstruction of Thomas James Bridge, but they are also confidential.

 

And construction of a temporary bridge alongside the old bridge is being considered, but the details are “in confidence”.

 

And when it comes to the Settlers Rd landslide – just up from Thomas James Bridge, Hawkesbury Council want to keep the seven options – narrowed to two – secret too.

 

“The choice is currently in confidence,” says the MVA.

 

The MVA’s Tony Simpson – a well-known and respected Hawkesbury lawyer – says he isn’t overly concerned about the confidentiality clauses and is more focussed on ensuring there is a temporary bridge alongside the one to be repaired.

 

But other members are troubled, with one telling the Post, “yes, I am concerned about the confidential situation”.

 

“A lot of people are now quite scared – because they don’t really know what is going on.”

 

“A lot of people are now quite scared – because they don’t really know what is going on and when people are in this situation you have to feed them with information and let them know exactly what is happening.

 

“The thing that is terribly important is that this is an emergency. This is a major emergency if it’s not set up properly.”

 

The repairs are likely to be funded through the Federal Government’s Disaster Relief Program.

MVA’s Tony Simpson points to the bridge and road damage…

 

Heritage NSW has said the bridge must be renovated to pre-disaster level, not upgraded, and has said the old stone blocks have to be used on the front wall and be removed one by one and put back in place just as they were.

 

Tony Simpson says, “the landfill that was in the area between the retaining wall and the side of the mountain has been there since the convicts put it there 200 years ago, and the heaviest rain we have had in decades caused the retaining wall to collapse and then the road for about 30 or 40 metres, half of it has subsided, and the foundations were impacted.”

 

And just around the corner there’s the other landslip, which also needs rectifying.

 

“The big issue,” says Mr Simpson, “is it is going to cause the road to be closed and we want the road to be kept open.

 

“We hope they [Hawkesbury Council] will get funding from Transport for NSW for a temporary bridge to go up and around the current bridge site and then the work program for the landslide area follows, so that allows for traffic to go through while they are reconstructing that landslide area.”

 

The other committee member we’ve been speaking to said the road had to, “stay open as long as it is possible. It seems to me they will tell everybody in due time how they are going to handle this”.

 

“They have got to show people how they are going to stabilise the bank and how they are going to do the bridge, so that people become calm.

 

“I had a woman sitting behind me [at the initial public meeting] and she was shaking with fear.

 

“They have got to set this up in the right kind of way. It’s not rocket science, you’ve just got to set up things in the right way.”

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