Bushfire recovery should be kick-started with a $10 million commitment to the East Gippsland Rail Trail and historic trestle railway bridges, according to the Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.
A proposed bushfire recovery project to upgrade the East Gippsland Rail Trail and link the Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail to Lakes Entrance has received overwhelming public support.
Mr Chester said months of frustrating bureaucratic delays had meant no projects had started under the Local Economic Recovery Project funding announced in May and it was time to get on with the job.
“My message to the state and federal bureaucrats is: it’s time to get stuff done,” Mr Chester said.
“We need less people in suits making excuses and more people in boots getting work done on the ground to boost our economy. There’s a lot of money that’s been promised but we haven’t even seen the funding guidelines, five months after the program was announced.
“Work on the East Gippsland Rail Trail redevelopment and historic trestle bridge upgrades could start in weeks and support local jobs.
“This is the only bushfire recovery project proposed by the community which covers such a broad area and would benefit each town and community along the 100 kilometre route.
“I’ve received letters of support for the trail to be upgraded from the Orbost Chamber of Commerce, the Lakes Entrance Action Development Association, Destination Gippsland, as well as the local Community Recovery Committees. Cycling enthusiasts from across Victoria who have heard about the proposed redevelopment have also written to me expressing their overwhelming support.”
The East Gippsland Rail Trail travels from Bairnsdale through Nicholson, Wiseleigh, Bruthen, Nowa Nowa and Wairewa to Orbost, all of which suffered significant social, environmental and economic losses from the summer bushfires. The 17-kilometre Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail branches off between Bruthen and Colquhoun and heads towards Lakes Entrance.
The work undertaken would include improving the surface of the key sections of the trail, improved connections to towns along the trail to encourage riders to take a break, better showcasing key features, additional infrastructure such as shelters, rest areas, drinking fountains and seating, and addressing drainage, erosion and vegetation issues.
A new seven kilometre section of Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail would be built, extending the trail into Lakes Entrance.
Mr Chester said the Snowy River railway trestle bridge would also be restored as part of the project, while a bridge damaged in the fires near the trail at Wairewa would be preserved.
“This project has the potential to become a legacy project that unites East Gippslanders as our communities recover from the 2020 bushfires,” Mr Chester said. “This is an obvious opportunity for all levels of government to work together and deliver a $10 million project with strong community backing.
“The project will bring much-needed government money into the East Gippsland economy to support local contractors and suppliers while the work is underway.
“Afterwards, East Gippsland will have a lasting, valuable addition to its tourism infrastructure that diversifies our tourist offerings to become a year-round destination of choice.
“There is no other project which unites so many fire-affected and economically impacted communities than the redevelopment of the rail trail and trestle bridge upgrades.
“The State and Federal Governments need to get on with the job of delivering the funding that has been promised to East Gippslanders.”