Parents from Goodnight Scrub have been paying up to $300 a week in fuel costs to get their children to the school bus thanks to ongoing road closures currently isolating their community.
Initially a six weeks partial closure, bridgeworks at St Agnes Creek Bridge 20km east of Gin Gin were extended for firstly one week full bridge closure and now extended until Christmas for major repairs.
Two school bus runs servicing the Goodnight Scrub are adversely affected by the bridge closure with Department of Transport declaring an alternate route crossing the Burnett River at Booyal Crossing too dangerous for buses carrying school children.
Parents driving their children to meet the bus at the Morganville-Goodnight Scrub and Bruce Highway intersection were travelling up to 500km for the one-week full closure, crossing the Booyal Causeway bypassing the bridgeworks.
“It cost me over $300 in fuel for one week to get my two kids to the bus, so they can go to school,” parent Leanne Miller said.
“I know of a few parents who are home schooling their kids for the week.”
Bundaberg Regional Council engineers examined and tested both bridges resulting in a 10 tonne limit on Perry River Bridge and an initial 15 tonne limit on St Agnes Creek Bridge.
Since August, the council’s only bridge crew has been replacing the seven span timber St Agnes Creek Bridge because of deterioration to critical structural components and large sections of the bridge deck.
Hunter Cole, Bundaberg Regional Council Bridge Supervisor said: “Initially work was expected to be completed with a partial closure of the bridge and completed in six weeks.”
“As work progressed we found the bridge was more extensively damaged,” Mr Cole said.
“A 5 tonne limit was applied during partial closure of the bridge, but the bridge was found to be unsafe for traffic and workers, and Council closed the bridge, diverting traffic via the Booyal Crossing.
“Major works on damaged girders and headstocks can only be done safely with the bridge completely closed to traffic.”
Isolation is nothing new for the community of 400 Goodnight Scrub residents, with access over the past two years cut twice by the Perry and Burnett Rivers flooding as well as St Agnes Creek.
Sitting in a deep curve of the Burnett River and bordering the Perry River, Goodnight Scrub residents are at the whim of ‘Mother Nature’ and the vagary of water releases from Sunwater’s Paradise Dam.
The 2011 floods isolated the community, with both the Burnett and Perry Rivers peaking at record-breaking heights causing residents to be cut off for five weeks.
Residents praised SES boat crews who ferried residents across the Perry River to meet a council bus providing transport into Gin Gin for supplies except for interruptions to this service when the St Agnes Creek flooded.
Perry River Bridge spent five weeks and St Agnes Creek Bridge a few days underwater causing extensive damage to both bridges; with Booyal Causeway on the Burnett River being underwater for most of the past two years.
Booyal Causeway went under again on 14 November with increased flows over Paradise Dam from flooding in the upper catchment of the Burnett River making the crossing unsafe for traffic resulting in its closure by council.
Early advice by Sunwater gave council crews an opportunity to install an emergency access detouring past the St Agnes Creek Bridge site on an unnamed road temporarily upgraded.
Roads and Drainage Portfolio Spokesperson Cr Tony Ricciardi said that while the bridge was still closed to traffic, an emergency side track has been opened for vehicles under 5 tonnes.
“Due to an issue with flooding at Booyal Crossing, we have needed to open an emergency track around the bridge site,” Cr Ricciardi said.
“Having this emergency track in place will enable the bridge crew to work more effectively and complete the works in a shorter time,” said Cr Ricciardi, recommending that motorists travel with extreme caution paying attention to guidance signs.
Every morning from 7.30am and each afternoon at 3.30pm, parents gather to meet the school bus at the intersection with the Bruce Highway and there is only one topic of conversation – the bridge.
Residents are not happy with the many delays by council in starting repairs and now are concerned that work on the bridge may stop due to the wet season.
A local resident, who wanted to be known as Anthony to protect his identity, said: “Work on this bridge should have been done earlier in the year; there has been delay after delay”.
“This side-track detour is a great idea, but why didn’t they do this in the beginning?”
Residents have been frustrated by false starts and a lack of communication on when bridgework would start as it was initially scheduled for earlier in the year with equipment and materials arriving but then work stopped.
“Council was set to start work on St Agnes Creek Bridge but then a bridge in Avondale started to fail so we had to fix that one first,” Mr Cole said.
On the edge of the Bundaberg Regional Council’s area, Goodnight Scrub residents can’t be blamed for feeling that they are not important, forgotten and on the edge of council’s considerations.
“We are stuck here when our bridges are closed or if we are flooded in, there is no way out for us; kids can’t get to school and their parents can’t get to work,” Mrs Miller said.
Following the 2011 floods, a group of residents campaigned unsuccessfully to have the Perry River Bridge raised, with council instead worked on other bridges and eventually repairing the bridge with no height changes.
Residents are not happy that bridges in other areas with alternate routes available are being repaired and in some cases new bridges built ahead of the Goodnight Scrub area.
Bridgeworks at Geramagulyan Creek Bridge on Wallaville-Goondoon Road is well advanced with the existing timber bridge being replaced with a three span concrete bridge and 600 metres of roadworks to approaches due for completion before Christmas.
While communications between Council and residents have improved over recent weeks, many community members share the opinion of a local resident who wanted to be known as Martin to protect his identity.
“Council only care about areas that are closer to Bundaberg,” Martin said.