Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr has called for the western foreshore of Blowering Dam to be reopened to “at least some tourists” by Easter.
Speaking to the lower house this week, the MP discussed the impacts of the Black Summer bushfires on local tourism and the need to reopen popular destinations, such as the western foreshore.
“Because of the devastation to forestry … much of the tourism to the region has been put on hold,” Dr McGirr said.
He explained that the closure of the western foreshore of Blowering Dam for over one year has been a “real blow” to the region, particularly to towns such as Batlow and Talbingo.
“At this time of year, it’s such a shame because the weather has been perfect,” he continued.
“The dam, Blowering Dam, has been close to full at times and unfortunately this important tourism attraction hasn’t been available.”
The western foreshore was closed after it was heavily impacted by the Dunns Road fire last summer, and it remains closed due to “dangerous road conditions”, according to Forestry Corporation’s website.
Dr McGirr said he wants to see it reopened in time for Easter.
“I will be visiting that region myself, and encouraging and working with the government to try and open that up,” he said.
“It’s an important part of getting those communities back on their feet.”
Linda Rudd of the Batlow Hotel said the ongoing closure has had a huge financial impact on the town, affecting tourism and through-traffic.
The Hotel’s December and January take-in is down 27 per cent compared to previous years, and regular families who visit each year – spending hundreds of dollars in town – have not returned this year, she said.
“People here are not asking for every road to be opened, we understand that some roads are dangerous and they can remain closed, but while they’re not logging – and they’re not logging over there – there’s no reason that they couldn’t open some of the roads up,” Mrs Rudd said.
“I’ve been going out there for 35 years and [the pine trees] are in better condition now than they’ve ever been.”
The publican has serious concerns about the future of local businesses if the closure remains in place for much longer.
“If it remains closed for much longer, businesses in this town are struggling and if we don’t get to experience some of our tourism and through-trade soon, there are going be a lot of businesses that aren’t going to survive,” Mrs Rudd said.
“They’re not going to be here next summer.”
She also has concerns for the mental health of Batlow locals who can’t access the recreational facility as easy as before.
“We have a fairly large group of fire-affected people who come in here regularly … who would (normally) go over and camp for the night, just to get away,” Mrs Rudd explained.
“They can’t always leave their businesses, a lot of them are orchardists or they’ve got stock.
“We’ve certainly heard from a lot of them that this has impacted them.”
Forestry Corporation’s Regional Manager Dean Anderson told The Times that there is a “significant” amount of activity ongoing to repair impacted roads, with the torrential storm last weekend impacting this.
“Forestry Corporation is fixing as many roads as possible, prioritising those that keep 730 people working at our local mills and support the recovery of as many fire-affected trees as possible,” Mr Anderson said.
He said that Forestry Corporation is planning to restore access to the western foreshore “as soon as we can.”
“Expressions of interest for some of the work are currently with contractors and a tender has also been released to replace three bridges that will be installed this financial year,” Mr Anderson explained.
He said that the State forest on the Blowering Dam foreshore and a number of other areas remain closed because it is unsafe, with risks of injury from impassable roads or falling trees.
“To date $1.3 million has been spent on access to and around the Blowering Dam western foreshore but further work has been hindered by wet weather,” Mr Anderson explained.
“Once we have the main roads fixed, we will have numerous minor roads leading off them that will be unsafe due to wash-outs and the potential falling trees.”
Mr Anderson claims that people have not been adhering to safety signs and road blocks at the main access routes, which is posing a challenge for opening portions of the foreshore.
“Given this, we are grappling with how can we safely open up parts of Blowering and trust people not to put themselves or others at risk,” Mr Anderson said.
During parliament this week, Dr McGirr also discussed the bushfire-affected Hume and Hovell track, saying work must begin to repair this.
“It’s encouraging to see that there have been allocations made by the government for repair work, but this work needs to get happening,” the Wagga MP said.
“I understand the need for safety and the delays to work because of Covid, but we cannot delay any more than is necessary.”
The call to reopen local tourist attractions follows similar calls this week for Elliott Way in Tumbarumba to be reopened.
It also remains shut more than one year after the bushfires, and Snowy Valleys councillor Bruce Wright said this is having a “huge” impact on the Tumbarumba community, both in terms of tourism and the restricted access to recreational sites, such as O’Hares campground (Sue City).
“Hundreds of people from Tumba went down and camped at various get-togethers, and [now] it’s all blocked off,” Cr Wright said.
“People going through Cooma and the coast always came through Tumba; they can’t do that now.”
Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain said she has written to the NSW government about the Elliott Way closure last year, and again last week.