A LETTER FROM THE GENERAL MANAGER
Published on 31 October 2022
Gwydir Shire Council Road Damage
In October of 2021, I wrote to all residents on the roads impacted by natural disaster flooding events to advise of the scale of damage across Council’s 2000km road network. At the time, two flooding events had caused nearly $14million of damage to Gwydir’s roads.
This was unprecedented.
Since then, two more natural disaster declarations for flooding have been made for Gwydir Shire, and it is expected that one further declaration (or the extension of an existing declaration) will be made for rain events from the week starting 17 October 2022.
This frequency of flooding driven by La Niña is not normal weather.
The resultant damage from these 5 rain events is enormous and widespread. Some examples of typical damages are attached.
While Council staff are still assessing the full extent of the damage, over 2000 individual damages have been logged. These damages range from significant gravel loss to potholes and failed pavements. Relentless wet weather has meant Council graders have been unable to work efficiently in table drains to improve stormwater flow, further compounding issues.
The total damage bill is expected to eclipse $25 million and, while funded almost entirely under the combined State and Federal Disaster Recovery Arrangements, will take a minimum of two years to complete. To put the scale of this into perspective, in an average year, Council carries out just over $6 million of roadworks in total. Gwydir’s road network stretches some 250km more than the distance from Melbourne to Brisbane and now has an average of one major defect every kilometre.
While the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements are of enormous benefit to Council, they only have provision for like for like replacements. It is for this reason improvements to pre-flooding standards have not been seen in works carried out to date and are unlikely to be for future works. The NSW Government recently announced a betterment fund to improve flood resilience on roads subject to frequent damage, however this is unlikely to be a panacea for Gwydir’s roads due to a limited amount of funding being made available across the State to the many rural Councils impacted by these storm events.
Council’s construction staff have been working tirelessly to address the road damage. Since the first natural disaster declaration in November 2020, the staff have worked a combined total of almost 15,000 hours of overtime. Council’s plant has only stopped when being repaired or when an operator is not available. Additional graders have been added to our fleet and additional staff dedicated to disaster recovery have been appointed in both construction and project management roles.
In normal climatic conditions, Council has adequate resources to address most customer requests regarding road defects in a relatively short timeframe. The current scale of damages means that this is no longer the case. Priorities are forever evolving as road conditions change; however Council’s prioritisation methodology has consistently been that larger damages on higher trafficked roads have the highest priority. Reinstating access to landholders who are unable to access services is also given top priority.
If a damaged road is not being repaired, it is only because staff are working on higher priority damages. Road damage that presents an inconvenience only, will in most circumstances have the lowest priority. Motorists will have to become accustomed to road conditions that require reduced speeds and greater caution in areas of damage that do not present immediate and serious safety concerns.
In my October 2021 letter, the expected timeframes for repairs were detailed for affected roads. Events since this letter have meant that these timeframes are no longer applicable, however Council will endeavor to meet them where possible.
These problems are not unique to Gwydir Shire Council. Similar damages have been incurred in all the neighbouring Local Government Areas and many others across the state.
This has created a huge demand for both contractors and skilled staff. Councils are competing with each other to augment their works’ crews with contractors and hired plant.
The struggle of NSW councils are detailed in a recent article in The Guardian, which is attached to this letter, or can be found at the following address https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/oct/07/nsw-councils-call-for-funding-boost-for-rain-related-repairs-or-they-will-start-closing-roads
Thank you for your patience and understanding in these difficult times. The reporting of defects can be done by calling Council’s customer service team on 02 6724 2000, or preferably by email firstname.lastname@example.org