Hopes that a long-running feud between Batlow-Tumut Rail advocates and the Snowy Valleys Council were ending have once again stalled, if not imploded.
‘Bad blood’ between the two sides continues to skew conversations, with differing reports emerging from a meeting held at the Council building last Monday, March 9.
Rail Trail advocate Phil Barton described it as “a defining day in the pursuit of the Batlow-Tumut Rail Trail Project” in a Facebook post which garnered more than 300 likes and 44 shares on its first day.
“We are confident many of the issues have been fairly aired and a new era of cooperation will begin,” he said.
On Wednesday, Mr Barton described the meeting to the Times as an “ambush” with Mayor James Hayes unexpectedly joining SVC CEO Matt Hyde in hosting the meeting. Mr Barton asked for a witness before going further and fellow committee member Bill Masters was called in.
Both parties agree that they discussed the unhealthy tension which has been generated around the project on social media and welcomed the news that local MP Dr Joe McGirr is looking for funds to conduct an independent feasibility study on the proposed trail, but that’s where the stories begin to diverge.
“The big news of the day is, the Mayor and the CEO have agreed to have the Batlow-Tumut Rail Trail Project listed in the Dunn’s Road Fire Recovery Plan which is currently being drafted,” writes Mr Barton, “It is not a guarantee the project will proceed, but it is in the mix to be considered by the final decision makers.”
When asked about the recovery plan, Mayor Hayes responded, “It’s council’s position that we will not advance any other rail trail until we get the Tumbarumba-Rosewood Trail up and running and we know what the running costs and advantages and disadvantages are.
“We haven’t wavered from that for the last 3 years.
“I didn’t make any other promises.”
Mayor Hayes went one step further to clarify that “we don’t have a Dunns Road recovery plan for projects anyway. I don’t know what he’s talking about there.”
Mr Barton was incensed by the statements, insisting there hadn’t been a miscommunication, but that Mayor Hayes was backtracking on their previous agreement.
Initially, SVC staff reviewed Mr Barton’s comments and said they had nothing further at add. When asked Thursday morning about whether the trail was in the recovery plan or not, Communications Officer Donna Wilson declined to answer.
“Council’s advocacy plans are currently under review as we work to include bushfire recovery initiatives and expansion-of-economic-stimulus projects,” said SVC CEO Matthew Hyde after the conflict came to light.
“Economic stimulus projects that are being considered include trail development around walking, cycling and master-planning.
“A new advocacy plan is in construction and a draft document is currently being developed.”