IT was an epic four-hour battle on two of the Hastings region's most fiercely debated topics - the proposed orbital road through Port Macquarie, and the ailing health of the Lake Cathie and Innes waterways.
Hundreds of people packed two levels of the Port Macquarie council chambers on June 19 for an eagerly-anticipated meeting that would feature name-calling, a call for the council to be dismissed, a formal warning from the general manager and a threat from the mayor to call time on all discussion.
At 9.30pm, the gallery cleared out, dissatisfied with the result.
"Thanks for nothing you halfwits," was a parting gift from one resident to our elected representatives.
All options for an orbital road route, including the proposed east-west link vehemently opposed by the vast majority of the Port Macquarie community, remain in play.
Despite attempts by Mayor Peta Pinson, in a passionate and determined show of support for the alliance of action groups, the proposed "viable option" put forward by council after months of heated community engagement will be included in the step to move forward to a strategic business case.
Cr Justin Levido said the decision by council was tackling a big community issue "head on".
The recommendation by Cr Levido, supported by all councillors except Crs Pinson, Griffiths and Dixon, is for council to proceed to the development of a strategic business case for all orbital road options.
This will include value management workshops for an east-west link (Ocean Drive to Oxley Highway) and a north-south link (Oxley Highway to Boundary Street) orbital road, and the option for a major Lake Road upgrade. The step to a strategic business case will also include ranking options for best value and will seek engagement with relevant agencies.
Significantly for Fernhill residents, the airport access road will be separated from orbital road project investigations and made a stand alone priority for council.
If we waste $800,000 on this process, then the community has a right to call on the dismissal of council. Port Macquarie deserves better.Phillip Lloyd
Cr Pinson was not prepared to go down without a fight, taking on opposition from Crs Turner, Levido, Hawkins and Intemann calling for the the east-west proposed route to be taken off the table for good.
She was joined by a record 10 residents who spoke in opposition to the proposed east-west route all citing environmental, social and critical financial implications for ratepayers if the estimated $1 billion, currently unfunded project, is to proceed.
"Knock it on the head or you are going to lose the next election," resident Daniel Bessell said.
The same sentiment was voiced by Phillip Lloyd.
"If we waste $800,000 on this process, then the community has a right to call for the dismissal of council. Port Macquarie deserves better."
Peta Watters said the issue has galvanised the community.
"If you are our leaders you need to lead and hear us...be brave and courageous in your actions," she said. "The current east-west link route is not the best option and does not solve traffic congestion."
Cr Pinson said it has been the most robust community engagement and feedback received by council in 30 years and that response must not be ignored.
While the role of council is to responsibly manage the road network, Cr Pinson said, it is not its role to disturb and destroy vibrant parts of the community because of the poor decisions of those who have come before them.
Road upgrades are long overdue, she said, but there can be no support for the "viable option" as proposed.
The price to pay for our community is too high.Mayor Peta Pinson
"Our community is not opposed to road improvements, but it must not come at the expense of residents and their homes, our education precinct ... or our wildlife, which is what our community loves. It must not also come at the expense of the most vulnerable in our community whose only asset is their home," Cr Pinson said.
"We must not penalise our current community. We cannot expect our community to sit quietly and wait for two more years to pass while we prepare a strategic business case on the current route which cannot be built without the help of other levels of government."
Cr Pinson said both the state member Leslie Williams and Cowper MP Pat Conaghan have publicly stated they do not support the current proposed route which continues to fuel the Hastings community's ongoing anxiety.
"The price to pay for our community is too high," she said.
"We can find a better way. We must listen to what our community is telling us."
Cr Intemann said she could not support the mayor's proposal when it has been put to her "in the last five minutes" and without having the opportunity to investigate it.
Cr Hawkins agreed, but said it was crucial council move forward on the issue.
"There's no silver bullet," said Cr Hawkins. "This started in 1989 and council can't postpone this anymore. It's a question of finding, objectively, the best way to go."
He said council has to learn from the way in which it has conducted the process, but all options for an orbital road should be considered.
Cr Hawkins said council has failed if the community has not understood the process clearly and there are lessons to be learned from that.
Cr Turner said the current route needs to be there as a benchmark and provide guidance on social and other impacts for whatever option is ultimately chosen.
A report on progress to move to a strategic business case will go back to council in September.
Meanwhile, Revive Lake Cathie members gave it all to convince council to reconsider its decision not to fund any of the initiatives in its submission to the 2019-2020 operational plan.
Group president Danielle Maltman was among speakers who said there was real evidence to fund and support strategic action to mitigate any further human-influenced impacts on the lake network's ecosystems.
She said the re-design and widening of Kenwood Drive Bridge was a priority to improve tidal flows.
Cr Intemann reminded the group that council is a minor player in the estuary management process and is a caretaker for the lagoon at Lake Cathie only. She said the community must focus its efforts on the state government as the major manager of the estuary and will have council's full support in doing that.
"It's a serious matter and involves a lot of partners and council should not just appear to be taking the populist view," Cr Intemann said in response to Mayor Pinson's push to investigate dipping into council's $4.3 million of strategic priority reserve funds to action some of the group's submission initiatives.
"The most important thing that can be done is to have Lake Innes closed and restore it to a freshwater lake and the only way to do that is to talk with the state government."
Crs Hawkins, Alley, Turner and Levido said while supportive of Revive Lake Cathie's objectives, the mayor's amendment to the operational plan is putting the cart before the horse and undermines the principal of getting council's finances in order.
After some debate, Cr Pinson agreed and the operational plan for 2019-2020 was passed unanimously.