Bridge cam­paign clash co­in­ci­dence

Yarrawonga Chronicle - - Front Page - BY RACHEAL WIL­LETT

A VicRoads Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala bridge project in­for­ma­tion cam­paign sched­uled dur­ing the vot­ing pe­riod of the Moira Shire Coun­cil bridge plebiscite has been de­scribed as “an un­likely co­in­ci­dence” by CEO Mark Hen­der­son.

Read­ers of last week’s Yar­ra­wonga Chron­i­cle were pre­sented with a VicRoads bridge project up­date via ad­ver­tise­ments and the in- ser­tion of a four page ‘Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala Bridge News­let­ter’.

The cam­paign pro­vided de­tails of the project so far, rea­sons be­hind the Vic­to­rian and NSW govern­ment choice of the grey route over the green route, re­vealed plans to have the re­fer­ral for an En­vi­ron­ment Ef­fects State­ment (EES) com­pleted by Oc­to­ber and sched­uled two com­mu­nity in­for­ma­tion ses­sions.

It is the most sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence from VicRoads in the news­pa­per re­gard­ing the project since the bridge route de­ci­sion was an­nounced in Novem­ber, 2015.

The in­for­ma­tion cam­paign also hap­pens to fall in the mid­dle of vot­ing on Moira Shire Coun­cil’s Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala Bridge Route Plebiscite, with vot­ing packs due to be mailed out start­ing last week.

VicRoads’ only com­ment on the coun­cil plebiscite since it was an­nounced has been to say that the vote “aims to in­form coun­cil’s po­si­tion on the new bridge align­ment” while “VicRoads is con­tin­u­ing with the plan­ning study for the new bridge”.

Moira Shire Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to con­duct the bridge plebiscite in Fe­bru­ary when an of­fi­cer’s re­port, ap­proved by CEO Mark Hen­der­son stated, “whilst nu­mer­ous re­ports over many years have as­sessed var­i­ous route op­tions at no stage dur­ing the ges­ta­tion of this project has the Yar­ra­wonga com­mu­nity had a struc­tured way to ex­press an ob­jec­tive view”.

The re­port ac­knowl­edged the ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tion con­ducted by VicRoads but went on to say “the com­mu­nity en­gage­ment work un­der­taken by VicRoads has been se­lec­tive and leaves it open to bias by those that chose to par­tic­i­pate and those that as­sessed the re­sults”.

The Moira Shire Coun­cil Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala Bridge Plebiscite is non-bind­ing, on coun­cil or any other group, but in­stead has been sched­uled, ac­cord­ing to coun­cil, “to pro­vide a ro­bust, in­de­pen­dent and demo­cratic process to con­firm the Yar­ra­wonga res­i­dents’ pre­ferred fu­ture align­ment for a new bridge”.

With the plebiscite process un­der­way, Moira Shire Coun­cil CEO Mark Hen­der­son con­firmed coun­cil was un­aware of the planned bridge project cam­paign and com­mu­nity in­for­ma­tion ses­sions launched last week by VicRoads.

When asked about the tim­ing of the VicRoads cam­paign, in con­nec­tion with the plebiscite, Mr Hen­der­son said “it seems an un­likely co­in­ci­dence”.

Asked if coun­cil was con­cerned the VicRoads cam­paign would be detri­men­tal to the plebiscite vote or con­fuse vot­ers Mr Hen­der- son said “Yar­ra­wonga res­i­dents know their town and the plebiscite asks a very sim­ple ques­tion on a pre­ferred bridge align­ment”.

“In con­junc­tion with the VEC we’ve out­lined what we be­lieve is neu­tral and fac­tual in­for­ma­tion about the align­ments in the vot­ing packs.

“There will be a range of groups try­ing to in­flu­ence vot­ers, that’s democ­racy at work. We have con­fi­dence the com­mu­nity can make an in­formed de­ci­sion.”

VicRoads Re­gional Di­rec­tor North East­ern Nicki Kyr­i­akou did not re­spond specif­i­cally to ques­tions re­lated to the tim­ing of the roads author­ity cam­paign in con­nec­tion with the Moira Shire Coun­cil plebiscite.

“VicRoads has reached a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in the plan­ning process for the Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala bridge project,” Ms Kyr­i­akou said.

“The project team has be­gun pre­par­ing doc­u­ments for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Ef­fects State­ment (EES) re­fer­ral in Oc­to­ber which will de­ter­mine the re­quire­ments for the plan­ning ap­proval process mov­ing for­ward.

“We’re cur­rently in phase three of the plan­ning study for the grey route con­nec­tion B and the two in­for­ma­tion ses­sions are a timely op­por­tu­nity for us to share the progress we’ve made.”

VicRoads said the EES re­fer­ral mile­stone was the “key driver” for the lat­est in­for­ma­tion re­lease and “VicRoads en­gaged with res­i­dents on suit­able times and lo­ca­tions and planned the ses­sions months ago with the com­mu­nity in mind”.

With re­spect to how Moira Shire Coun­cil might act on the re­sult of the plebiscite vote, par­tic­u­larly if the VicRoads EES re­fer­ral has been com­pleted prior to the re­sult be­ing known, Mr Hen­der­son said “we won’t spec­u­late on the plebiscite re­sults but the An­drews Govern­ment has given a com­mit­ment to lis­ten to re­gional com­mu­ni­ties”.

“We hope the Yar­ra­wonga com­mu­nity takes the op­por­tu­nity to send a very clear mes­sage to key de­ci­sion mak­ers.”

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