Canegrowers fired-up over highway options

By SAMANTHA TURNBULL

WHEN Mark Gittoes' grandfather bought a sugarcane plantation near Woodburn 54 years ago he never imagined that it could one day be ripped in half by a major highway.

Mark, who now runs the 70ha property he grew up on, is one of many canegrowers between Woodburn and Ballina outraged by the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority's 11 options for the upgraded Pacific Highway route.

About 10ha of the Gittoes' farm, which is in section one of the upgrade area, would be lost under options 1A, B and C proposed by the RTA.

The 'best' option would run 120 metres away from Mark's back porch, while the 'worst' would be 70 metres away.

His father, Ron, would lose his Broadwater home under options 2C, D, E and F in section two of the upgrade area.

"We're not happy with any of the options the RTA has chosen," Mark said.

"The solution, as far as we are concerned, is to go wider with a route ideally through the (Broadwater) national park on higher ground that's flood-free."

Ron said building the highway through the national park would not be a simple case of favouring agricultural land over wildlife habitat.

"We're all environmentally conscious, but the Broadwater National Park is one of the lowestgraded parks in terms of environmental value," he said.

"When the bushfires go through, the highway would provide a firebreak and they could fence it to prevent roadkill and build a wildlife corridor over and under the highway."

The Gittoes and their neighbour, Artie Lickiss, who could lose more than 30ha, have called on the RTA to extend the closing date for public submissions on the options.

They also want the RTA to examine possibilities for further options.

"We all know we need a better highway," Ron said.

"But there's got to be a better way."

On the weekend, State Member for Ballina Don Page said NSW Roads Minister Michael Costa should extend the closing date for submissions on the Woodburn-to-Ballina upgrade.

Mr Page said he had been overwhelmed by calls from residents who were concerned about having less than a month to respond to the Roads and Traffic Authority's 11 options.

However, an RTA spokeswoman said yesterday that June 20 would remain the closing date for submissions on the options.



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