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Increased red tape leaves Great Ocean Road community stranded by rising river levels

By Sarah Jane Bell, Thursday May 21, 2020 - 11:32 EST
Audience submitted image
One of the residents of the Aire Valley, Callum Gorrie, stands with his Labrador Morris at the impassable section of Hordern Vale Road. - Audience submitted

For the second time in a year, residents of the Aire Valley in south-west Victoria have become stranded by rising river levels.



The small community near Apollo Bay, along the Great Ocean Road, has attributed the mismanagement of the water catchment, and poor road design to the region's present predicament.

More than 20 residents of Hordern Vale Road have been trapped for the past week, forced to travel through a flooded road to gain access to groceries and medication.

Resident David Gorrie said a build-up of sand where the Aire River meets the Southern Ocean had blocked the river mouth, and caused the inland water levels to rise.

Mr Gorrie said the sand bank had built up to be half a metre deep, and 50 metres wide.

"It's pretty dire and this is the second time it's happened in 12 months — we're all pretty frustrated," he said.

"We've been stuck for, I think, coming up seven days.

"Short of wading through the water to get out, and having a vehicle on the other side, it's a pretty precarious situation and it's not ideal, it's dangerous and we can't work."



Flooding hurts farm land

Mr Gorrie's family run a small furniture-manufacturing business and he said being trapped had significant financial impacts.

"It's pretty dire, I know for our business it's costing us thousands of dollars a week in not being able to get regular access to Colac and Melbourne," he said.

"As a result, [we're] having to use sub-contractors to undertake some of our work.

"There's a guy with an organic egg and lamb business at the end of our road and he's unable to make deliveries at the moment so it's costing him, and then there's a nurse who can't get into work at the moment."

Bruce Costin, 69, is one of the longest-standing residents of the Valley — his family settled in the region in the 1880s.

A beef and sheep farmer, he said they had been forced to move their stock to higher ground.

"The water is rising very slowly and the sand bar is also rising, so the prospect is that the river has already been blocked for something like three weeks," Mr Costin said.

"If Parks Victoria wait for it [the water] to [flow out] over the sand bar, it will probably take another couple of weeks, so the impact of having our farmland and wetlands under water for five weeks will be devastating on the pasture."

He said if the 1,500 acres of the Valley remained underwater for a prolonged period it would kill the vegetation.

"For us it's costing us thousands … it might be years before [the land] recovers." Mr Costin said.



Red Tape strands residents

Mr Costin said cumulative circumstances had led to the flooding.

"Over the years we originally had a licence to open the river when rising water threatened our livestock, [but] gradually the bureaucrats have started to impose themselves," he said.

Mr Costin said since the early 2000s, the responsibility of monitoring and opening the river mouth had been taken away from landholders and placed in the hands of government bodies.

"Obviously the landholders here have skin in this issue and we've been left to deal with government authorities who don't really have skin in the issue as much, it doesn't impact their finances or lifestyles," he said.

Mr Costin said Parks Victoria had the licence from the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority to open the sand bar, but needed to apply for permits.

"The Parks' approach is they want less artificial openings — they have almost a disincentive," he said.



Mr Costin said erosion along the Great Ocean Walk had made the circumstance more difficult.

"Normally a larger excavator [can] clear the sand bar, but because of erosion on the track … you can't walk an excavator through that," he said.

"We had suggested accessing with a small excavator but [Parks Victoria] have been unwilling to do that, [throwing] up the barriers of cultural heritage and vegetation damage which are quite relatively small issues, in the context of the damage that's being done to the community."

Mr Gorrie said the situation had become worse in recent years as the process became caught up in red tape.

"There's a number of protocols in place that the water has to be tested, and various authorities have to look at the viability of the river mouth being opened and whether it might affect the aquatic situation within the river," he said.

"That, as a result leads, to delays in getting it open, and those delays lead to rising waters and trapped residents."

The ABC has contacted both Parks Victoria and the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority for comment.


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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