CONTROVERSY has erupted over a decision by Gannawarra Shire Council to commit $42,000 to upgrade a dirt road that services a Kilter Rural farming property near Lake Charm.
Local farmers are angry that council money is being spent on a project that they say will benefit Kilter exclusively, when there are many other dirt roads across the shire that service multiple farming properties.
Earlier this year, council applied to the State Government for $83,000 in funding from its Local Roads to Market program to gravel a 800-metre section at the northern end of McFarlane Road, where it joins to Bowdens Bridge Road.
Council was required to contribute $42,000 on a 2:1 basis, with $10,000 from rates revenue and $32,000 from Federal Government roads funding.
Local farmer, Dan Kennedy, who owns land on McFarlane Road immediately south of the section to be upgraded, described the project as "ludicrous".
"At the end of the day we don't think it's appropriate that council should contribute one third of the funds to benefit one landholder," he said.
"If that's money well spent by the council and State Government, I think we need to reassess and I think that's the opinion of a lot of people out this way."
Mr Kennedy said he also didn't believe council staff should have spent time preparing an application for funding that would almost solely benefit Kilter.
"Why should our rates pay for someone to sit in council to submit an application for funding, when if you or me asked for the same favour, we would have been told 'sorry'," he said.
"I can't see how it's anything more than a leg-up for an organisation that has its own equipment and gear and is most able to deal with the situation, while everyone else has to deal with slopping around in mud and wrecking vehicles."
Fellow farmer, Stuart Simms said Kilter already had all-weather access to its property via Bowdens Bridge Road.
"It's the principle of the fact that there's money being spent on a road here that only serves one owner that already has access to the property with an all-weather road; that money could be better spent to serve a greater majority of the community."
Mr Kennedy proposed that upgrading the nearby Flood Lane – a frequently used dirt road – would be a better use of funds.
"If council wanted to do something constructive, upgrading Flood Lane to all-weather would provide a route that services numerous properties and keeps traffic from going back onto the highway," he said.
"People pay rates on these properties but until we get back on an all-weather road we get no services from the council except for a grade every now and then."
Meeting with the Gannawarra Times at McFarlane Road on Wednesday, farmers called on council to halt the project.
"I think the $42,000 the shire has committed needs to be stopped, and if that means the $83,000 has to go back to the State Government, then so be it," Mr Kennedy said.
Council's infrastructure services director, Geoff Rollinson said the Local Roads to Market program provided funding for very specific projects on "strategic agricultural routes", and Kilter was able to provide documentation that met the criteria.
"The State Government advised that this funding was available and there was a very short time-frame to apply; Kilter at the same time advised us that they could provide information about how this would benefit their business and therefore achieve the requirements of the grant," he said.
"This wasn't even on the radar for council, it's really because we've been approached by Kilter that this upgrade has been enabled."
"If other people are interested in other sections, that's something we can consider."
Mr Rollinson said consideration was given to gravelling the entire length of McFarlane Road, which is only gravelled at its southern end, where properties sit adjacent to Lake Charm.
An all-weather loop around Lake Charm has long been identified as a priority by the Lakes Community Development Group, with an extra 1.7 kilometres of gravel required at an estimated cost of $275,000.
"Part of the consideration was to gravel re-sheet the entire length of McFarlane Road from Bowdens Bridge Road to Stevenson Road, but bearing in mind that the grant is about high productivity vehicles, that would have meant those vehicles would have been entitled to run down past all those houses on the bottom end of McFarlane Road," Mr Rollinson said.
Kilter Rural has been contacted for comment.