Macadamia grower Rex Harris fears the Pacific Highway reconstruction could pass through his property at Bangalow.
Macadamia grower Rex Harris fears the Pacific Highway reconstruction could pass through his property at Bangalow.

Highway splits residents

By ALEX EASTON

PEOPLE living between Ewingsdale and Tintenbar have had their properties put in limbo for the next 20 months as the RTA decides the route of the latest Pacific Highway upgrade.

Real estate agents have warned the property market, in the swathe of land being considered for the highway, could stall because of its uncertain future.

And people developing farms in the RTA's highway upgrade 'study area' say they don't know whether to continue developing the farms or, if they do, how to develop properties that could change radically in size and shape.

Bangalow farmer, Rex Harris, said he spent five years building his macadamia farm, and now, with two years before his 17,000 trees entered full production, he needed to start investing in storage and harvesting equipment.

But, faced with the possibility of the highway cutting his farm in half, Mr Harris said he was no longer certain what sort of equipment he would need or what his farm would look like if the highway ran through it.

George and Fuhrmann Real Estate Agent Brian Grant said the study area, released only last week, had put a 'blight' over the property market that would remain until the route was finalised in mid-2006.

Mr Grant, whose macadamia farm also fronts the highway and also faces the possibility of having a new road put through his land, said uncertainty was the greatest issue facing property owners.

"We can't do anything with these properties for two years," Mr Grant said.

"We've already had people asking 'where's the new highway going' ? they will ask it three or four times while they look at a place ? and the answer is 'I don't know'."

Mr Harris, who has lived in Byron Shire about 15 years, said uncertainty was straining friendships between farmers south of St Helena and residents at Ewingsdale.

The Ewingsdale residents largely backed a plan to build a tunnel under St Helena for the highway, which would keep the road low and reduce highway noise, but would also put a new road through farms to the south.

The farmers wanted the highway to remain on its existing route and for the RTA to go ahead with existing plans to build a viaduct on St Helena, which would mean continued noise issues for the residents to the north.

Some residents have also suggested running a new highway through sugarcane farms under the escarpment to the east of the study area.

But RTA Pacific Highway upgrade program manager, Bob Higgins, said considering that option would mean more residents would face uncertainty and it would take longer to settle on a final route.

It would make it harder to link the highway between the completed Ewingsdale interchange and the planned Ballina bypass.

"What we are trying to do is move as quickly as we can to identify a route so we can provide certainty," Mr Higgins said. "We do consider all the issues, but there's no perfect answer here ... we're not going to satisfy everyone."

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