The scene five years ago. The collapsed section of the Lighthouse Road walkway.
The scene five years ago. The collapsed section of the Lighthouse Road walkway.

No party for walkway anniversary

Don’t get out the party hats, and leave the corks in the champagne. This is one anniversary that won’t be celebrated.

On June 30, it will be five years since a section of Lighthouse Road at Byron Bay was swept away by a raging torrent, taking with it a large chunk of the adjacent timber walkway – and a start to work to repair the damage seems just as far off as ever.

For five years, temporary traffic lights have controlled traffic in what has become a single-lane road, and the thousands of walkers who use the walkway have been diverted around the collapsed section on to the roadway.

There has been some progress though. Work was completed several years ago below the site to protect holiday cottages, and a new stormwater drain was built to deal with future heavy water flows.

But up above, the weeds are getting longer and a start on the main project – rebuilding the roadway and walkway – has hit hurdle after hurdle.

For its part, Byron Council admits progress has been frustratingly slow.

The council’s community infrastructure executive manager, Phil Holloway, said the approvals required from numerous State departments for design and natural disaster funding had been exhaustive.

Mr Holloway said the council this month would be submitting its final review of environmental factors (REF) to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for sign-off and approval.

He said NPWS approval was required due to the works affecting the Cape Byron conservation area.

Finding a solution that met NPWS environmental requirements for the boardwalk and the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) had not been a straightforward process, he said.

The location had also meant increased engineering design to allow traffic to continue using the road while under construction.

Said Mr Holloway: “This is effectively the second time council has gone through the process.

“In early 2008 only one tender was submitted for the reconstruction work. Regrettably, due to the high cost, the tender was not accepted as additional funding was not available from the RTA.

“As a consequence, an extensive geotechnical design review was completed. Unfortunately the redesign has required another round of approvals.”

Mr Holloway said the council also would be submitting the final detailed design of the road to the RTA during June.

He said while the RTA approval was dependent on the NPWS approval, the council hoped a dual process would speed up the final go-ahead.

He said the dual approval would mean tenders could be called at the end of this year, with work to start soon after if RTA funding was released.

The council has copped a hammering from residents over inaction on the restoration project, but mayor Cr Jan Barham   said the criticism was ‘not a fair call’.

Cr Barham said the council was not to blame for the delays as it was following a process set out by the State Government and the council had done everything asked of it.

She said restoring the roadway and walkway was not the council’s direct responsibility and the council was not empowered to do the work.

Final approval for the work and funding would come from the State Government, she said.

Byron Bay’s peak business group, Byron United, says that like the rest of the community, it is disappointed that after five years the repair of the walkway appears to be no further advanced than the tendering process.

“Whilst we understand there are technical difficulties in the repair works, Lighthouse Road and the walkway are important and significant community assets, and we look forward to seeing it finished by the end of this year,” said BU president Ed Ahern.

Regular Lighthouse Road walker Cathy Short said she was ‘absolutely disgusted’ the road and walkway hadn’t been restored.

Ms Short said the lighthouse was a major tourist attraction and it was a ‘disgrace’ that it was taking so long to get the work done.

Another regular walker, Sevegne Newton, said it was ‘absolutely disgraceful’ for the situation to have dragged on for so long. Ms Newton said she was tired of listening to ‘all the excuses’.

“It’s simply not good enough,” she said. “The fact that an iconic walkway is left like this is just pitiful.”

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