DEPUTY Premier Member for Gippsland South and Minister for Regional and Rural Development, Peter Ryan has announced the provision of funding to the tune of $1.3 for the much-awaited Black Spur section of the Great Southern Rail Trail.
The $1.85 million project will see the 2.6 kilometre section of the Rail Trail between Koonwarra and Meeniyan completed, helping to create a seamless 69 kilometre route between Leongatha and Welshpool.
Mr Ryan said the Victorian Coalition Government’s $1.3 million investment included $1 million from the Regional Growth Fund, $290,000 from the Advancing Country Towns program and praised the South Gippsland Shire Council for its $562,184 investment towards the Black Spur project.
Accompanied by The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Danny O’Brien, Mr Ryan made the announcement at the Koonwarra Recreation Ground during a visit to his Gippsland South electorate last Thursday.
Mr Ryan addressed a crowd of local residents, members of the Great Southern Rail Trail Management Committee and those of the Koonwarra Recreation Ground Committee, along with South Gippsland Shire Mayor Cr. James Fawcett, Deputy Mayor Cr. Jeanette Harding, Councillors Mohya Davies and Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks and Community Strengthening Co-ordinator Ned Dennis, CEO Tim Tamlin and senior Shire staff.
Also present for the announcement was chair of Prom Country Regional Tourism Phillip Botte and Destination Gippsland CEO Terry Robinson.
The Black Spur section will be carried out in two stages, with the first stage to include the construction of new bridges. The works will include demolition and reconstruction of two historic bridges spanning the Black Spur Creek, construction of a 130 metre connecting trail between the two bridges and construction of a picnic area and viewing location at the end of the second bridge.
Stage two of the project will connect the end of the second Black Spur rail trestle bridge and picnic area to Meeniyan. These works will include the reconstruction of a 146 metre bridge that spans the Tarwin River, the construction of a 170 metre connecting trail between two bridges and also the construction of an 800 metre connecting trail between bridge three and Minns Road.
Acknowledging the commitment of the many who have worked to see this project come into effect, Mr Ryan praised the South Gippsland Shire Council which has provided unyielding support to the project over the years, and the dedication of the many volunteers who have, over the years, voluntarily provided countless hours to the Rail Trail project, such as the Great Southern Rail Trail Committee of Management Neville Pulham and his dedicated team.
“It’s a day where you get the opportunity to realise and to celebrate the contribution of volunteers in the community and to wonder where we would be without them,” Mr Ryan said.
Mr Pulham said that the day is a momentous one for the members of the Great Southern Rail Trail Committee of Management and the friends and users of the Rail Trail.
“It’s like winning Tattslotto,” Mr Pulham said, explaining that although not his money, the news of this funding for the project is equally as exciting as would be the news of winning the ‘big one.’
“The Rail Trail was the vision of Eric Cumming and it’s great that we’ve been able to push along with his vision to see it through. The help of the Government and the South Gippsland Shire Council has been fantastic,” he said.
“The Great Southern Rail Trail is a major asset to the South Gippsland region, attracting tourists, supporting local businesses and improving the health and wellbeing of local residents,” Mr Ryan said, adding that when complete, it is estimated that the Black Spur connection will provide more than $1.9 million in annual economic benefits to the region through tourism-related business opportunities, employment and new attractions.
Mr Ryan said we are not a ‘Waterworld’, a ‘this world’ or a ‘that world,’ such as you find in Queensland, but that we are the sum of many parts and therefore, adding to our area’s attractions to bring people to us, to stay with us for that extra day or two, bodes well, particularly for the small business sector.
Member for Eastern Victoria Region Danny O’Brien welcomed the investment and commended the Great Southern Rail Trail Committee for their work.
“Extending the rail trail has been a high priority for the Coalition Government, the community and the Committee of Management, and thanks to this investment we will now complete another vital link in this impressive rail trail,” Mr O’Brien said.
Mayor of South Gippsland Shire Cr. James Fawcett expressed gratitude to the Government and in particular to the local Members for their part in enabling completion of this project.
“When you see cyclists or walkers using the Rail Trail, trying to negotiate the road in the area of the gap, they look like frightened rabbits, so this will be a wonderful asset to both tourism and to our general wellbeing.
“‘If you build it they will come’ applies. Numbers of those using the Rail Trail increase every year and our local entrepreneurs will hopefully see this as a means to providing a much greater experience to people visiting our wonderful shire,” he said.
“There are some terrific innovative members within the Rail Trail Committee and they’ve assured me it’s not going to be the Sydney Harbour Bridge but that they will make the best use of every dollar from the grant provided,” Cr. Fawcett said.
Mr O’Brien said that the project would be completed by December 2015.
Mr Ryan said that around 1650 projects have been carried out through Regional Growth Fund, spread across the 48 geographic areas of the regional councils, creating a great deal of transformational change for many communities, whether it be in industry, in job creation, or by empowering small communities to bring their ideas to government and to see these ideas realised.