One bridge you won?t want to cross
By BELINDA F SCOTT
FOR the past two months, Warren Stephenson has been crossing his fingers every time the phone rings, hoping it's not a fire call from Dairyville.
That is a bridge he does not want to cross.
The Upper Orara Rural Fire Service captain has a 13.6 tonne fire truck in the shed that's been banned from thundering over the ageing timbers of Dairyville's Houlahans Bridge, which shake at the passage of any vehicle.
The bridge has had an eight-tonne, 20km/h limit imposed on it since November 30.
The area is home to 49 country families and several businesses, but only one access road.
"At the moment there's no fire coverage there at all," he said.
But Mr Stephenson's anxious wait is almost over, with Coffs Harbour City Council works manager Allan Hindmarsh assuring residents that urgent repair work will begin next Tuesday to bring the bridge's load limit up to 20 tonnes.
The good news on the bridge will also mean residents will need to be well-organised for the next few weeks, as Houlahans Bridge will be closed from 9am to 1pm for 10 working days to allow workmen to complete the job quickly.
Mr Hindmarsh said the Upper Orara RFS had been given an exemption to take its fire truck over the bridge, as had the school buses and several businesses with heavy vehicles.
But Mr Stephenson said the weight of a full crew brought the actual weight of the Upper Orara fire truck to 14.16 tonnes, exceeding the recommended safe load limit by more than six tonnes.
Dairyville resident and RFS volunteer Warwick Howe, who lives west of Houlahans Bridge, shares Mr Stephenson's concerns, and has others.
His partner ended up in hospital two weeks ago after the wheels of her small 4WD slipped off parallel timber tracks on the bridge during pouring rain, throwing the vehicle into a spin and smashing a section of the bridge's railings.
"She was lucky she hit a bit of kerb not eaten out by white ants," Mr Howe said, adding she could have ended up in the Urumbilum river.
Mr Hindmarsh disputed Warren Stephenson's assertion that the bridge timbers were 'like bloody cardboard' due to active termite infestation, saying timber bridges were inspected annually and treated if necessary.
Mr Hindmarsh said Houlahans Bridge would be included in Coffs Harbour City Council's bridge replacement program, but the date depended on funding.
Last year the bridge was scheduled for replacement in the 2007-08 financial year.