ROAD TO RUIN? Angry residents say prime land may be lost if highway upgrade goes ahead

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

TUNNELLING through St Helena and carving up prime agricultural land are topmost in residents' concerns as the RTA investigates a route for the upgraded Pacific Highway.

The RTA has announced community information sessions beginning tomorrow night to look at the upgrade options for the 17km stretch between Ewingsdale and Tintenbar.

Pacific Highway upgrade manager, Bob Higgins, said a previously agreed-on Option B for the highway upgrade was being deferred as it failed to take in the full stretch of highway.

"There will be a range of options discussed ... including a tunnel through St Helena, but we haven't done any geo-technical work on that option," Mr Higgins said.

He said the effect a new highway would have on agricultural land would also have to be considered.

"We need to understand their businesses and see if there is a way to have the least impact.

"We don't have the answers yet, these are early days."

But affected residents and farmers are already speaking out.

Brookfarm macadamia growers, Pam and Martin Brook, say their farm, and others near them, are at risk.

"Byron is seen as clean and green and we are on the cusp of creating a viable new sustainable, organic food industry with value-added products from locally grown produce," Mr Brook said.

"You just don't run a six-lane highway through prime agricultural land like this, it's rich, fertile red volcanic soil.

It's not only the Brooks who are facing an uncertain future as the RTA maps the new highway.

Those living with highway noise in Ewingsdale and Bangalow are pushing for a new route as far away from residential areas as possible.

"If you're going to build a highway, build it away from people," Ewingsdale resident and member of the Northern Pacific Highway Noise Taskforce, Bernard Grinberg, said.

"Too bad" if that means carving into agricultural land, he said.

n Tomorrow The Northern Star will publish initial plans for the highway south of Ballina.



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