South Burnett Rail Trail Users Association members Claire Kapernick, Jason Wyeth and Craig Kapernick after their address to the South Burnett Regional Council’s March meeting

March 29, 2021

by Dafyd Martindale

A delegation from the South Burnett Rail Trail Users Association (SBRTUA) addressed last week’s South Burnett Regional Council meeting to seek support for a Proston-Hivesville Rail Trail.

The rail trail proposal has had a chequered history, originally supported by Council and then shelved earlier this year.

Last December, Council announced it planned to apply for funding from the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) to build the trail.

However, the Council dropped the project in January after farmers attending public meetings in Hivesville and Proston (see below) said a rail trail would increase biosecurity risks and threaten a beef cattle property’s ability to gain organic certification.

Mayor Brett Otto said the trail idea would be shelved because any projects submitted to the next round of BBRF required “100 per cent community support”.

A few weeks later, Council announced it would put forward upgrades to Wondai’s Swimming Pool as an alternative to the rail trail project.

Last Wednesday, three members of the South Burnett Rail Trail Users Association addressed councillors, calling on them to keep an open mind about the project.

They said in the two months since the Hivesville meeting, the SBRTUA had fact-checked the organic farming and biosecurity concerns raised.

They said that while the concerns were real, the group believed the farmers were worrying unnecessarily.

The speakers said the group had spoken with two organisations responsible for issuing organic accreditation and both said the creation of a rail trail would not prevent a farmer from gaining full organic certification.

Similarly, the group said they also checked claims of increased biosecurity risks with AgForce and DAF, and were told a rail trail would pose no greater a biosecurity threat than the public roads that already passed farms along the trail’s proposed route.

The speakers said similar concerns had been raised four years ago when the South Burnett Rail Trail was being built, along with concerns the trail would lead to increased crime, and they had proved groundless.

They said the South Burnett trail was enjoying year-on-year increases in user numbers and many former opponents were now using it themselves for exercise and recreation.

The speakers said in addition to economic benefits the trail would bring to Proston and Hivesville, experience with the South Burnett Rail Trail showed there were many important community benefits attached to the project as well.

These included promoting better health among residents, which could also assist in tackling suicide and promoting better mental health.

The speakers said while the SBRTUA accepted Council’s decision not to seek funding from the latest round of the BBRF, they would be seeking a letter of support for the project to ensure it remains uppermost in the minds of Councillors.

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Farmer Ray Wise, Mayor Brett Otto and farmer Terry Griffiths at the Hivesville meeting on January 12

In mid-January, Council called two community meetings in Hivesville (January 12) and Proston (January 13) to gather public feedback about the rail trail proposal.

The meetings followed several public consultation meetings held in 2019 when a report about the feasibility of the trail was prepared by independent consultants Mike Haliburton and Associates.

At the Hivesville meeting, cattle farmer Terry Griffiths said he was just 18 months away from gaining organic farm certification, but the potential of chemicals or weeds in the environment could threaten his plans.

“This would give us no hope of going organic,” he said.

Mr Griffiths said he currently had European Union accreditation for producing cattle without hormones, and gaining organic farm certification was the next step.

This would allow him to sell his beef at much higher prices and because of this, he did not want people passing his property who could potentially spread rats tail grass, parthenium or other weeds as they used the trail.

Farmer Ray Wise, who recently bought a property in the area, said he shared these concerns.

“If there was a rail trail we wouldn’t know who had been there, what animals had been through, and what weeds were there,” Mr Wise said.

“I am having second thoughts about buying this property because I didn’t know this (rail trail) was a possibility.”

Several other farmers said they had not been consulted about the proposal.

Another farmer said she was opposed to trail because it would come near her house.

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[Disclosure: Dafyd Martindale is president of the SBRTUA]


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