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Cape York welcomes early wet, pity about the bridge

Charlie McKillop, Wednesday November 27, 2013 - 13:16 EDT
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High and dry... the new Laura River bridge has been built to a floodproof standard but residents cannot understand why the nearby northern crossing was replaced at existing low-lying levels. - ABC

The early arrival of the wet season has been welcomed by residents in Cape York Peninsula, even though it's cut the main road access.

The Peninsula Development Road is flooded at Laura, a tiny town 300 kilometres north of Cairns, where tens of millions of dollars has been spent upgrading river crossings in the past few years.

Grazier Bill Raymond cannot understand the logic behind the decision to rebuild the bridge, south of Laura, to 1956 flood levels, while the old bridge, north of Laura, was replaced at existing flood-prone levels.

Mr Raymond is rejoicing the rain that's fallen on his cattle station in the past week, but says the early wet has also highlighted the failure of the roadworks to improve access for Cape York residents.

"It makes it very difficult for people up here. I really don't understand why they built that as a low level bridge," he said.

"There's more than 15,000 people who live north of the Laura River. If we go to a Brisbane suburb where 15,000 people got cut off for long periods of time, there'd be a riot.

"People from the south that make these decisions just don't understand the conditions we live under up here.

"No one up here has any of our wet season stock in, fuel or lick. We usually pull in a semi load of lick. None of that's in here yet and when you're coming up, you want to know you can get through, you don't want to be hung up on a river."

Only six days ago, grazier Bill Raymond was pumping water to his drought-affected herd, but that's turned around with 168 mm in the past few days.

Mr Raymond says his records on Pinnacle Station, 110 kilometres west of Laura, show it's the earliest start to the wet season since 1973.

"I'm not complaining about the rain," he laughed. "I'm only complaining about the road!"

The Laura store owner Harold Taverner says access to the town opened briefly last night, but has been cut again today, with the river at 2.1 metres over the northern bridge.

The Main Roads Department did not return calls by ABC Rural.

However, State Member for Cook David Kempton says it reinforces the need to have a long-term strategy for the Peninsula Developmental Road.

"I've been on this process since we got elected talking to the regional director of main roads, to all the roadhouses, to Rio (Tinto), to the mayors, to (Cook Shire mayor) Peter Scott and we're working on a strategy to try and stop a lot of the waste up there that's going on with the re-sheeting of the roads every year and not sealing, but we've always got to balance bitumen against bridges."

Meanwhile, Peninsula graziers are watching the markets anxiously hoping confidence will be restored domestically.

Mr Raymond says there's general nervousness the latest diplomatic tensions with Indonesia over leaked Australian intelligence cables may damage the trading relationship just as it's getting back on track.

"It's definitely been a point of discussion, especially for people who are financially stressed. A lot of them are teetering on a knife-edge of whether they're going to survive or not," he said.

"Really, it's political stirring, a lot of it, because these things happen all the time. It just depend on how wise some of the people involved are.

"That's the crux of the matter, that people saying the wrong things can destroy the whole livelihood of a person whose spent their whole life building something up."


© ABC 2013

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