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Mountain-top village of Comboyne faces tough summer with closure of main access road for flood repairs

Thursday December 30, 2021 - 21:04 AEDT
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Visitors won't be able to easily get to Comboyne, or nearby Ellenborough Falls, one of its key attractions. - ABC

Comboyne is a small, tight-knit village that has worked hard to bounce back from bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, just as the summer tourist season gets into full swing, the town in the New South Wales mid-north coast hinterland has to deal with another blow.

Its only sealed access road has been closed due to safety concerns, with the alternative access a winding mountain road with a long, unsealed section.

Peter Newman, who runs a small business in Comboyne, said the road closure had come just as a number of new ventures had opened.

"It's incredibly disappointing having come through so many setbacks on the way," Mr Newman said.

"It's a village community. The mountain is coming back from a heavy time and we have some new businesses.

"We are very disappointed the summer season will be affected significantly. Everyone is really upset and very, very concerned."

A sense of desperation

The Comboyne Road, which runs up the mountains from west of Port Macquarie, was closed for almost two months after it sustained severe damage during the March flooding.

Emergency repairs allowed it to reopen, but permanent repairs are yet to be done and recent heavy rainfall worsened an existing major slip and has widened cracks.

Just before Christmas, the local council announced that the road needed to be closed again immediately.  

Comboyne Community Association president Gordon Burch said the road closure would impact on the number of visitors to the town.

"There's a sense of desperation because we were assured the council was going to get cracking with a permanent repair of the road and at this time of the year it's particularly devastating," he said.

"We?ve had one of the cafes in town closed for the best part of two years and they have only just reopened with the expectation of good Christmas season trade and that, of course, is impossible now."

Mr Burch said tourists often stopped in Comboyne on their way to popular walks and waterfalls beyond the town, and would now need to use the alternative route via Lorne Road.

"It's a shame for the tourists, because there's the Boorganna Nature Reserve and Rawson falls and a lot of traffic goes over to Ellenborough Falls," he said.

Mr Burch said it also had a big impact on the region's dairy and avocado farmers.

"We are avocado growers, and all the other avocado growers are in the midst of harvest," he said.

"Trucks heavily laden are now having to go the long way round on a very dangerous road ? it's dirt, has bad corners, it's steep and mountainous.

"That's also a great danger for residents who now have to use that road at this busy time of year, plus, we have the milk tankers, and they have to come and use the road every day."

'Lucky we haven't had a major accident'

Leonie Stevens manages the Comboyne community store and said it was fortunate no-one had been seriously injured on the road.

She said Comboyne's annual Campdraft in late December drew about 250 competitors. 

"We had many trucks coming up with horses and floats, when you hear that the road is very unsafe and that it could have gone, I think we are really lucky we haven't had a major accident on that," Ms Stevens said.

"The road closure will have a very large impact on business. The main concern though is the safety of our residents."

Concern over repair time

The Port Macquarie-Hastings Council said emergency repair work on Comboyne Road would take from three to six weeks, depending on weather conditions.

Mr Newman said there was a lot of uncertainty over how long the closure would be.

"With such a serious deconstruction of the road ? collapsing from underneath and cracks going into what is currently the traffic area of the road ? it's hard to believe anything can be done to make the road safe to operate," he said.

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's Dan Bylsma said maintenance work would be increased along the alternative Lorne Road, including the unsealed section, to ensure public safety with the increased traffic flow.

He said the council was also working on a long-term plan for the reconstruction of Comboyne Road.

"Plans for a complete rebuild are already underway," Mr Bylsma said.

"The council has begun the procurement process to engage contractors to undertake the longer-term project."


© ABC 2021

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