There are alternatives to the state government’s proposed Brighton Bypass route, which would protect the important Jordan River levee site, satisfy the Aboriginal community, be relatively low cost and meet all standards required by the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources (DIER). So why has the state government dug its heals in and appears unwilling to avoid the destruction of this priceless piece of Tasmanian heritage while facing enormous public opposition?
It part the reasons are the additional price and the delays in construction if an alternative route is chosen. But more importantly it is a battle over who makes decisions to build major new roads in Tasmania. The DIER and the minister do not want decisions on building new roads to be based on a rational assessment of whether they are necessary and acceptable to the Tasmanian community. The technocrats in DIER want to retain control over building new roads and expect its minister to go into bat for them because the minister’s power and budget are also threatened.
The TCT has written to the previous Minister for Infrastructure Lara Giddings and the previous minister responsible for the Aboriginal Relicts Act, David O’Byrne, recommending the protection of the Lower Jordan River levee site at Brighton as a priceless part of Tasmania’s heritage. This site contains extensive evidence of Tasmanian Aboriginal existence dating back more than 40,000 years and we have urged the state government to alter its planned route for the Brighton Bypass to avoid this site entirely.
We pointed out to both ministers that the DIER proposal for a bridge to span the levee site as a means of protecting the site is unacceptable. This is a typical engineer’s solution and would desecrate the site.
The importance of the levee site includes the landscape and visual context of the site and a massive highway bridge dominating the site would have unacceptable impacts on it. While a bridge might reduce the impacts on the scientific value of the site, it would have significant impact on the experience of visiting the area. While the TCT cannot claim to be able to express the cultural importance of the levee site for Aboriginal people, it seems obvious that the construction of a highway over it would diminish the potential for the Aboriginal people to hold cultural events.
As well as building a four-lane highway over the levee site, this proposal also involves some destruction of the site listed under the Aboriginal Relics Act to make way for two of the bridge pylons.
Alternative routes have been proposed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community which would avoid the important levee site. However, we are not convinced that any alternatives have been thoroughly assessed, nor acceptable compromises considered. The reply we received from Minister Giddings simply refused to explain why alternatives were not acceptable.
Eight alternative routes have been proposed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community which would avoid the important levee site.
As well as reading relevant documents available on the DIER web site the TCT have had extensive briefings from DIER engineers on these alternatives. While DIER documents and officials do not advocate support for any of the alternative routes, this is a decision only the minister can make. We conclude from the information provided to us that several of the alternatives which extend to the south of the proposed Jordon River crossing are acceptable (identified as routes 2, 5 and 8 in the GHD consultants report to DIER) as they avoid the levee site, meet safety and speed requirements and have the lowest additional costs or planning constraints. We understand that speed limits would need to be lowered marginally for these new sections to maintain safety standards at the same level as the proposed route, however applying the preferred highway speed limit would still meet safety standards.
We note that the GHD report produced for DIER concluded in relation to alternative route number 2 that ‘the increased safety risk associated with this option could be managed’ (page 3).
The department sought this independent review of the options and has refused to accept it.
The final decision by the new Minister for Infrastructure, David O’Byrne, and the new minister responsible for the Aboriginal Relicts Act, Brian Wightman, to proceed with this project may be made before Christmas and we hope that common sense prevails. The state government should decide in favour of protection of a priceless part of Tasmania’s heritage and accept that the project will be delayed, cost some extra few millions of dollars and will mean road users may need to reduce their speed by 10km per hour for a kilometre of two.