By Jeremy Sollars
Southern Downs councillors have remained divided over reducing road upgrade conditions imposed on the owners of Cherrabah Resort at Elbow Valley east of Warwick.
But a majority of councillors voted at the August general meeting last week in favour of the reduced conditions as requested by Cherrabah, which will involve only partial upgrading of Keoghs Road.
Councillors debated the issue during the August round of committee meetings ahead of the general meeting, with Cherrabah’s owners Wenxing and Wenwei Ma having disputed an original condition to widen the seal on the full length of Keoghs Road.
The road condition was the result of an approval given by the previous council administration in December 2019 for a commercial water extraction operation on Cherrabah which caused significant community controversy.
The council at that stage required a full upgrade of Keoghs Road to handle increased heavy vehicle movements to and from Cherrabah expected to result from the water operation which would involve the extraction of up to a million litres of underground water annually from Cherrabah for commercial plastic bottling on the Gold Coast.
The Ma brothers appealed the road condition, stating it would be “onerous”, with neighbouring Elbow Valley property owners who objected to the water plan having remained hopeful the cost of the roadworks would render the overall plan unviable.
But councillors last week voted six to three in favour of reducing the road condition to upgrading of several bends and crests in the road, but with the proviso that if future truck movements increase beyond Cherrabah’s initial estimates the full upgrade of Keoghs Road could be required.
Voting in favour of the full upgrade were Councillors Stephen Tancred, Andrew Gale and Cynthia McDonald.
In favour of the reduced condition were Mayor Vic Pennisi, Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley and Councillors Jo McNally, Marco Gliori, Sheryl Windle and Cameron Gow.
The result of last week’s vote was in slight contrast to the vote taken on the overall water extraction plan last December – in favour were former mayor Tracy Dobie and then councillors Neil Meiklejohn, Rod Kelly, Sheryl Windle and then Deputy Mayor Jo McNally, while against were Vic Pennisi, Yve Stocks and Cameron Gow. Former councillor Marika McNichol was absent from the vote due to a bushfire threatening her property at the time.
The negotiation process over Keoghs Road had been ongoing since the start of this year with the Ma brothers having been granted several extensions of time by the council to enable them to submit fresh traffic studies by their consultants to support their argument for the road condition to be reduced.
The water extraction plan drew heated opposition from neighbouring Elbow Valley property owners and many others in the community questioned the council’s approval last December given the extreme drought in the region.
During the debate on the road – both in committee and at the general meeting – Crs Tancred, Gale and McDonald all argued that only a full widening would be likely to ensure safe separation and movement of vehicles passing each other on Keoghs Road.
Mayor Vic Pennisi last week cautioned Cr McDonald on two occasions to confine her comments to the road condition issue after Cr McDonald raised broader issues in relation to the water operation.
For his part Cr Pennisi argued last week and in the committee debate that if agricultural production – for example vegetable growing – was being instead carried out on Cherrabah it would be an “as of right” farming use in a rural area and not subject to any council approval.
He also argued were that the case truck movements on Keoghs Road would likely be higher than those expected to be generated by the water operation.
Cr Pennisi also told councillors last week he was satisfied council officers had thoroughly examined the road issue and that the reduced upgrade condition was “reasonable” – also telling councillors that either refusing a development application or imposing conditions an applicant deemed onerous would need to stand up in court if a full-blown legal appeal resulted, the cost of which would need to be met by ratepayers.
Comment has been sought from Wenxing and Wenwei Ma but no response has been forthcoming to date.