A CFA volunteer has warned Golden Plains residents could be trapped by bushfires if a bridge is allowed to fall into disrepair.
Ian Getsom, a firefighter for Linton CFA for more than three decades, fears the future closure of the Golden Lake Road bridge could be deadly.
Federal and council funds had been earmarked earlier this year to re-do the bridge. However, the plans to repair the bridge have since been shelved, with unexpectedly high costs among the reasons cited by Golden Plains council officers.
While the bridge - which was built in 1920 and spans the Woody Yaloak Creek - is currently in use, there is no guarantee how much longer it will continue.
I don't want to go up there as a fireman and find bodiesIan Getsom
Mr Getsom, who lives on Golden Lake Road, told The Courier that the bridge could be the only escape route if fires took hold in bushland to the north.
He said he had done a drive around the area and counted 29 separate residences, including his own, that could be affected by the bridge's closure in the event of a fire.
"My biggest concern is the safety of the people who live north of here," he said. "This is vitally important to us."
The bridge - within sight of the magnificent hand-built trestle Nimmons Bridge - had also been used by ambulances in recent years.
While the bridge's current five-tonne weight limit make it unsuitable for fire trucks, plans had been put forward for a sturdier concrete version.
In April this year, the Coalition government announced federal funding worth $603,500 to help replace two bridges in Golden Plains shire - Wall Bridge in Teesdale as well as $300,000 for Golden Lake Road Bridge.
At the time, the then mayor Owen Sharkey called the centuries old bridges "perfect examples of important local infrastructure that is at the end of its life."
"The new concrete bridges will provide safe travel and allow heavy vehicles including emergency vehicles to take the fastest route to their destination."
The cost of replacing the existing bridge with a concrete one was originally estimated at around $600,000, with costs to be split between Golden Plains Shire Council and the federal grant.
However, the project was rejected at a council meeting in August. A tender was "significantly in excess" of original estimates. An officer report conceded the bridge would "eventually deteriorate to a condition where it is no longer safe for any form of vehicular traffic.". If the bridge was unable to be used, it would mean council no longer had to look after the asset, the report said.
It also said the main property owner who benefits from the bridge had no objection to the bridge not being replaced.
Led by Cr Des Phelan, councillors voted to approve the recommendation and reject the bridge's renewal. In September, the funds instead were allocated to Franklin Bridge in Napoleons, with $100,000 carried over to the council's road resealing program.
Local resident Margaret Roberts said she was "totally thrilled" when she first heard of the federal funds.
That feeling changed when the result of the vote in the August council meeting became clear.
"I was gutted," she said. "Immediately I thought the implication is the bridge is going."
Former Golden Plains Shire mayor Cr Helena Kirby told The Courier that she believed the August decision should be reviewed. "I think we didn't have enough processes to really make a better decision," she said.
This week, several CFA volunteers visited the bridge and expressed concerns over safety if the bridge falls into disuse.
Cr Kirby also said the maintenance of the 1,744km of roads - as well as 138 bridges - around Golden Plains Shire, was a major issue for the shire, and called for more state and federal funding.
In the meantime, Mr Getsom remains focused on the bridge closest to home. "I don't want to go up there as a fireman and find bodies," he said.
In a statement, the Golden Plains Shire confirmed it had begun a formal process to permanently close Golden Lake Road to through traffic.
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