A rocky divide builds over Killarney's iconic crossings
TOURISM benefits and safety issues are flaring rivalries between landowners at Cambanoora Gorge, near Killarney, as they prepare for the release of a plan on the river crossings next week.
The 14 river crossings along Condamine River Rd have been subject to two rocky community consultations and months of assessments by state-funded Kehoe Myers.
Key community concerns consider the impact on the surrounding environment, biodiversity, accessibility, road safety and tourism.
The release would be a welcome relief for resident of 20 years Paul Stumkat.
"We've been through 10 or 11 floods in our time here,” Mr Stumkat said.
"It's not unusual for us to be stuck at home for two or three weeks at a time, living off rations. "We've had to walk our children on our shoulders through the water to get them to school.”
The landowner described how the river rose quickly, hiding boulders in the middle of the river.
"You can't see them so after rain you have to get out of your car at every single crossing and walk through water to check if there are boulders,” Mr Stumkat said.
"If there are, it's up to you to move them out of the way.”
But the improvement Mr Stumkat was most looking forward to was being able to easily run his cattle through the region.
"I have cattle trucks loaded up and they have high clearance but the bottom of the crossings get slippery because of the slime and the boulders,” he said.
"If my driver doesn't keep the speed up he gets stuck there with the wheels spinning and I have to go tow him.
"When he gets stuck we both lose money.”
On the other side of the metaphorical river is the founder of Save Cambanoora Gorge, Justine Hankin.
Mrs Hankin lives in Ipswich but visits her property bordering the rocky crossing once every couple of weeks.
As the woman behind the petition to "Save Cambanoora Gorge Natural Crossings”, which has more than 450 signatures, she is a vocal advocate for the preservation of the road in its current state.
"I'm trying to preserve the pristine natural environment,” she said.
"People need to come, have another look at the gorge, and understand what they'll be losing once it's culverted.”
Mrs Hankin claims the proposed upgrades would do nothing to help residents living in the area during heavy rain.
"The whole thing about safe, flood-free access is just insane,” she said.
"You would need high-level culverts and bridges and it's just not possible.
"If anyone is making out that you can, they are not being accurate.”
As a landowner in the region for the past three years, Mrs Hankin believes the money would be better spent upgrading Spring Creek Rd.
"Otherwise it's going to be a complete waste of taxpayers' money,” she said.
Tourism is another key concern for both parties as increasing numbers of visitors stream into the area.
Long-term resident Mr Stumkat believes the crossings will have a positive impact on the safety and numbers of tourists in Killarney and Cambanoora Gorge.
"It's not unusual for us to save a four-wheel drive from the crossings,” he said.
"Since we've had (the) council approve the road we've actually started getting a better class of tourists coming up, less (sic) idiots trashing the place and more families in SUVs.
"Families with teenage kids are the best spenders of money in regional areas and the more of them that we get into the region, the better it will be for the economy.”
Mrs Hankin believes installing culverts will take away from the wildlife experience.
"Tourism is the key to building a prosperous Killarney and (the) council want to take that away,” she said.
Mayor Tracy Dobie said the greatest challenge of the project was balancing the needs of each community sector.
"What is the opinion of one group will often be a divergent approach from another,” Cr Dobie said.
"Lots of people want to have a say and we take into account everyone's view, but most particularly those from residents who live along the road and businesses that benefit from those road users.”
The outcome of the Kehoe Myer report will be delivered to council by June 30, with information made public by mid-July, after which time there will be another consultation with landholders.
"At the end of the day, it's ratepayers' money,” Cr Dobie said.