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Seymour, we have a problem

The Old Goulburn River Bridge's future looks shakier than eevr before.

CHALPAT SONTI September 4, 2014 3:53am

Some of the about 20 interested residents who attended the meeting, as the bridge watches on in the background.


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The future of the Old Goulburn River Bridge looks to be staring well and truly down the slippery slope after a meeting at the site last week writes Telegraph editor CHALPAT SONTI.

The 20 or so local residents who met with Mitchell Shire Council representatives at the Old Goulburn River Bridge last week could not help but feel as though many years of endeavour were unlikely to come up with a happy ending.

They had just listened to the council’s engineering and infrastructure director Jeff Saker and engineering services manager James Kelly tell them the results of a report on the old wooden wonder — and its future looked bleaker than any time in its 121-year history.

Work has been halted on removing the superstructure as part of an interim ‘‘fix’’ before further funding is applied for to come up with a more permanent solution.

Mr Kelly told the meeting that there was a lot of decay of the crossheads and down to river level of the piers.

‘‘They’re (crossheads) not really recoverable,’’ he said.

‘‘(Externally) looks fine but you can push your finger through them and they’re crumbling. The cross heads were falling into the river as they were taking the beams off, so we suspended (work) so that wouldn’t happen. At the current stage we can’t proceed any further.

‘‘There’s substantial decay. There’s a severe problem... Every pylon has been exposed so far, as we’ve exposed them there’s been that severe decay.

‘‘We’ve got to look at ways of taking the rest of the decking off and retaining the integrity.’’

While there was some criticism of removing the stell girders off the bridge leaving it vulnerable to collapse, Mr Kelly said keeping them there could be worse.

‘‘You’d probably have catstrophic failure if the (timber) is decomposed to the level (it is so far). The whole thing could collapse, and it could happen overnight.

‘‘Taking the load off it and exposing it, that has the potential of actually saving the bridge, removing the (possibility of) catstrophic failure.’’

Mr Saker said the council was now looking at options to help maintain the structural integrity of the bridge.

‘‘One of the options is to replace it, but it all takes money and it’s something we haven’t budgeted for,’’ he said.

The council were also ‘‘obviously trying to recycle what we can out of it’’.

The explanations left some of those in attendance sceptical. One asked whether the council was serious about trying to retain the bridge ‘‘or is it just another exercise... to pull the thing down’’.

Cr Rhonda Sanderson, who with fellow North Ward councillor Bill Chsiholm was also present, said it wasn’t.

‘‘Our intention was to keep the bridge,’’ she said.

‘‘In order to do that we have to have testing done. I can hand on heart say my full intention was to save the bridge.’’

John Ware asked if the engineers had actually seen the evidence the piles were rotting, to which Mr Kelly replied he had.

Builder Greg Sharp was critical of the way the bridge had been stripped.

‘‘You’ve removed the part of the bridge and you don’t know what’s sitting under it,’’ he said.

‘‘To me, that’s a recipe for disaster. You say you know it’s rotting, but there’s no plan.’’

Lesley Dalziel asked the council representatives what could be done now, given a long period of mismanagement preceding the present council.

‘‘Are we still going to have a bridge at the end of this process?’’

Mr Saker said: ‘‘I would say the opportunity for it to be salvaged is less than for it to be saved.’’ While the bridge could be substantially modified, too much might lead to it not being considered a heritage bridge any longer.

Friends of the Bridge chairman John Jennings said the bridge was protected by the council’s heritage overlay, was recognised by it as one of Seymour’s icons and was one of the four remaining wooden bridges in Victoria ‘‘and probably the most significant structure on the whole of the (Old) Hume Hwy in Victoria’’.

‘‘It must be saved, it’s not a case of perhaps, it’s Seymour’s heritage,’’ he said.

‘‘Over the years we have lost so much of our heritage it’s ridiculous. We must save the bridge. If it’s not quite going to be the heritage bridge it was going to be, I think we just have to live with it.’’

Retired engineer Neil Harris put it another way.

‘‘There’s a simple rule in the engineering world if you really want to do something, you can do it,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s only the people who don’t want to do it who will drag you down.’’

Mr Saker said his team would continue with an engineering investigation and ‘‘take that back to council’’, as well as talking to Heritage Victoria.

‘‘It will come down to what the chances of saving it are,’’ he said.

‘‘It doesn’t look good at the moment (but) what are the options? Retain it as it is and put a few Bandaids on it or (does) it need to be demolished and replaced with something else?’’

Another meeting would be held between the council and Friends of the Bridge in coming weeks to discuss progress.

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