John Hewson and Peter Costello would describe this as generational theft, Councillor Peter Epov said during debate on the $38.977 million Cedar Party Creek Bridge project.
"Frankly I am extremely disappointed at the content of this report in circumstances where we are being asked to spend $39 million, perhaps the single largest expenditure in the history of this council so far," Cr Epov said.
Despite Cr Epov's concerns, councillors have supported a recommendation to go ahead with the much anticipated and long awaited replacement Cedar Party Creek Bridge at the entrance to Wingham, during discussions at the November MidCoast Council meeting.
Councillors also supported a recommendation to award the contract to Symal Pty Ltd and approved a proposal to borrow up to $4.5 million in the 2024-25 financial year for the project.
Jointly funded by MidCoast Council, state and federal governments, the project cost has skyrocketed from an initial $8 million to an estimated $38.977 million.
Cedar Party Creek Bridge is one of council's most substantial single infrastructure risks, project manager, Adam Grant reported to councillors.
Without replacement, it is likely council will still have to commit considerable funds to undertake further condition improvement and strengthening works to keep the bridge operating at full capacity- Project manager, Adam Grant, MidCoast Council
Located on Wingham Road, the 127-year-old structure is a tall timber trestle-style bridge that has in the past undergone significant strengthening work to prolong its life and ensure it continues to meet current needs.
According to council's infrastructure and engineering services director, Rob Scott more than 30 years have passed since the last maintenance work was undertaken.
A busy regional road and Gazetted 25-26m B-double route, Wingham Road provides a critical link for transport and meat-producing industries.
"Without replacement, it is likely council will still have to commit considerable funds to undertake further condition improvement and strengthening works to keep the bridge operating at full capacity," Mr Grant said.
"Proceeding with replacement as currently planned will manage the potential asset, financial and reputational risks."
Options to replace the bridge have been considered by council since the mid-80s
In recent years, MidCoast Council developed various strategic replacement options.
"The staff are to be congratulated because of cost increases, materials to construct the bridge and working out the exact route - costs have gone up but council staff have been able pursue and obtain more government funding so we only have to pop in a little bit in to finish it off," Cr Paul Sandilands said.
"The report is lacking in many areas and where we expected to spend $19.5 million in 2021 we are now going to spend $39 million in 2023-25," Cr Epov said.
"Back in 2017 a simple bridge without all the bells and whistles, without what I would call gold plating, was going to cost $8 million," he said.
"This has been blown up into a larger bridge, a higher roundabout, a free swimming pool and all these other things.
"We're going to borrow $4.5 million and we're going to hit the Taree developer contribution by $1.2 million. Councillors, aren't any of you concerned about the habitual raids on Section 7 contributions on projects that are continually over budget?
"Here we are expected to approved a $39 million project but we haven't seen any designs, there are no milestones and the single most important thing is there is no risk plan that covers preventable risks which can be identified."
Mayor, Claire Pontin acknowledged staff had spent many years negotiating with the Wingham community in an effort to find appropriate locations and routes for the bridge, and the swimming pool.
"At the end of the day a resolution was not found and unfortunately that then coincided with a huge inflationary pressure from local suppliers which pushed the costs up unexpectedly high," Cr Pontin said.
Cr David West said: "If we had built the bridge that Cr Epov was referring to Wingham would have been destroyed economically, the abattoirs would be held back completely because they probably wouldn't be able to get cattle in to slaughter to send to the world market.
"To say that council has been mucking around here is absolutely a false statement."
Cr Katheryn Stinson told councillors she was initially reluctant about the $39 million price tag.
"We did the fit out of council chambers for less than $20 million and the community was not happy with that total," Cr Stinson said.
"Spending $40 million on one bridge when other funds from other bridges are now going to be on hold is a bit to swallow.
"But, the reality is that the bridge does need money spent on it.
"So, considering a huge chunk of the money is government grant and council borrowing for that section is just over $4 million with all those components I am in support of this."
"I rise to support this motion. I am please to see the state government has put roughly $28 million into it; a sign that it is a strong project," Cr Jeremy Miller said.
"It is a very important project for the community and the economic development of Wingham and of the broader Manning area."