NEW load limits have been placed on 16 timber bridges in the Port Macquarie-Hastings region as a safety mitigation measure until repairs can be undertaken.
State and federal MPs used the announcement as an opportunity to label the decision a "band-aid fix" that will further cripple the recovery of rural industries.
Council has defended the decision saying the mitigation measures will maintain a safety for all users and will remain in place until necessary repairs or replacement can occur, after which load limits can be removed or improved.
Village communities across the local government area were notified of the load limit changes, effective from May 11, with many rallying to alert council of the potential impacts for dairies unable to have their milk freighted off farm or the inability to provide access for fertiliser, fuel, hay and grain trucks to their properties.
Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey and Federal Member for Lyne David Gillespie stepped in to encourage council to apply for priority funding to fast-track the renewal of these key timber bridges.
Council has installed load limit signs on the following bridges:
- Little Mortons Creek Bridge, Mortons Creek Road
- Kindee Bridge, Kindee Road
- Donkins Flat Bridge, Wingham Road
- Logans Crossing Bridge, Logans Crossing Road
- Bridge on The Cedars Road, The Cedars Road
- Tipperary Bridge, Tipperary Road
- Old School Road Bridge, Old School Road
- Myhills Bridge, Upper Rollands Plains
- Bril Bril Bridge, Upper Rollands Plains Road
- Bridges on Scotts Plains Road, Fernbank Creek Road, Foxs Road, Thone River Road, Bril Bril Road (Bottlebrush No 1) and Stoney Creek Road
Council said to ensure the ongoing safety, and to maintain the reliability of the region's timber bridges, detailed structural and safety inspections resulted in the need to revise load limits or lane restrictions on 16 bridges in the LGA.
Director Dan Bylsma said the community's safety, and the needs of residents and businesses whose livelihoods rely on the bridges, is the number one priority.
"We've been working closely with those who use the impacted bridges, to notify them of the new limits, and mitigate or resolve potential issues," Mr Bylsma said.
Council said load limits are an immediate preventative control measure until repair works on those bridges can take place.
If a vehicle weighs more than the signposted load limit, motorists must not drive past the sign, and in the instance that a property owner has heavy vehicles accessing their property, they are required to ensure the third party operators are aware of the updated load limits.
"Council is repairing a number of these bridges to improve or remove the load restrictions, where possible," Mr Bylsma said.
"For the remainder of these bridges, load limits will remain in place while council undertakes both short and longer-term bridge rehabilitation and maintenance programs."
Council is responsible for managing a broad range of bridges throughout the LGA including 120 public road bridges - 64 timber bridges and 56 steel and concrete bridges; 14 pedestrian bridges; 9 flood mitigation channel bridges, as well as several timber public wharves.
Dr Gillespie said the towns and villages impacted by the new load limits "deserved better from council".
"These rural communities are providing the food, fibre and essential timbers our economy needs right now," Dr Gillespie said.
"The Federal Government is providing communities like ours who have been affected by the recent bushfires, priority under Round 5 of the Bridges Renewal Program (BRP) and Round 7 of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program (HVSPP).
"It's been an incredibly difficult start to the year for these industries suffering from drought and bushfires. I want to work with council to prioritise and fast-track projects which can be delivered quickly."
Council said Round 7 of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program is not directly related to bridges. If a bridge is part of a broader road safety improvement project, it can be include in an application.
Council confirmed it has been successful in seeking funding in rounds 2, 3 and 4 of the Bridges Renewal Program for six major bridge repair and replacement projects. They include Scrubby Creek Bridge replacement; Thompson's Bridge replacement; Dunbogan Bridge upgrade; Albert Street Bridge replacement; Bulli Creek Bridge replacement; and O'Neill's Bridge replacement.
It also confirmed it will apply for funding in round 5 of the program for Donkins Flat bridge, Old School Road bridge and Bril Bril bridge.
Ms Pavey said at a time when rural industries have been under immense pressure, it is incumbent upon all levels of government to work together to support them and the broader economy.
Council said it has worked very closely with impacted communities to ensure changes are in place to allow residents such as dairy farmers, to continue to trade. This includes reducing speed limits to minimise axle weight on tankers and reducing load sizes.
Access by all emergency services vehicles, adhering to speed limits, has also been accommodated for.