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Documents released under Freedom of Information show in 2010 engineering firm GHD recommended Victor Harbor causeway should not be demolished, but SA Government says the report was a heritage assessment.
The Government controversially wants to replace the 150-year-old tourism drawcard for the South Australian seaside town with a steel and concrete structure at a cost of $31.1 million.
This has prompted a petition against the move, amassing nearly 10,000 signatures.
Freedom of Information documents reveal engineering firm GHD, which in 2019 undertook a condition assessment and found the causeway to be approaching the end of its useful life, gave a different view when asked by the Government to undertake a conservation management plan in 2010.
"There should be no new construction, demolition, intrusions, accretions, alterations or other changes to the causeway or its locality which would adversely affect its appearance, form, structure, setting or visual relatedness with either Granite Island or the Victor Harbor foreshore in the vicinity of its abutment," the 2010 report stated.
It said the causeway was one of the town's "central and special attractions" and was widely "recognised and publicised as one of Victor Harbor's principal attractions".
The State Government, however, said GHD's initial report was a heritage assessment that included a statement of significance, and was not an engineering assessment.
The popular horse-drawn tram crosses the Victor Harbor causeway.(Supplied: Brian Walker)Built in 1862 and still standingElements of the timber causeway, which have been in near-continuous use since 1874, were built in 1862 and continue to support one of the world's last remaining horse-drawn trams as it takes passengers to and from Granite Island daily.
GHD found in 2010 that while some repairs were required, original square piles of "colonial gum had withstood the elements, rot and worms remarkably well considering they were driven into the seabed more than 135 years ago".
It outlined a framework for repairing and refurbishing the causeway, while lauding the "rarity of its original function as a nineteenth century tramway bridge to a coastal port facility", which was held with "affection" and "attachment" by the SA community.
"The principal objective is to maintain the causeway's function as the bridge to Granite Island with a practical repair, reconstruction and maintenance regime that conserves its original fabric, the aesthetics of its original design, the setting and the cultural significance of the place," the report said.
The causeway has since been repaired on several occasions, including in 2012, 2015, and 2019 when parts of the structure failed.
Original structure 'significantly modified'The National Trust of SA sourced the FOI document and shared it with petitioner Eli Bickley from the Save the Victor Causeway Group.
Mr Bickley said it proved the structure was being unnecessarily replaced.
"Yes, it needs work, but this report irrefutably proves and demonstrates from an engineering company that it doesn't need to be demolished," he said.
"It can be repaired and arguably for less money."
But the State Government said the 2019 assessment, which followed the failure of a pile, found that 80 per cent of the piles were nearly failing and suffered from substantial depletion, corroded fasteners, rot and cracking.
The Government said the original structure had been significantly modified and repaired over the years and no longer resembled its original 1864 design, pointing out the deck and balustrade were replaced in 1957.
"This iconic landmark is a popular tourist attraction servicing Granite Island and local businesses," Infrastructure and Transport Minister Corey Wingard said.
"To refurbish the existing causeway wasn't a viable option, as almost all of it is unsalvageable."
Several repairs have been undertaken on the causeway since 2010.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Caroline Horn)Hardwood in 'superb' conditionSA heritage consultant Sandy Wilkinson said the structure's longitudinal hardwood timber, which was the "backbone of the structure" was in "superb condition".
"It is considerably cheaper to drive in new screw piles, than to replace the whole structure," he said.
"It's curious that the very same consultancy that in 2010 talked about the importance of the thing, saying it should be preserved and going into every detail about how that should be carried out, are saying it's a write off just nine years later after a lot of that work has been carried out."
The Government said refurbishment was initially considered as part of its structure review, but it would not meet technical and safety standards and cost more, and would result in no access to Granite Island for a year while the works were underway.
It said the new design would cater for the same operations the causeway is currently used for, but would have an increased load limit to allow for utility vehicles, trucks and a future provision for tram loading.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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