Valla Beach residents air complaints to Pacific Highway upgrade noise report officials

The highway noise report committee. From Left: AECOM representative Patrick Martinez, Pacific Highway general manager Bob Higgins, project structural engineer, Senior project manager Yvonne Bowles, and Environment manager Scott Lawrence.

The highway noise report committee. From Left: AECOM representative Patrick Martinez, Pacific Highway general manager Bob Higgins, project structural engineer, Senior project manager Yvonne Bowles, and Environment manager Scott Lawrence.

Valla Beach residents last night lampooned the committee in charge of the Pacific Highway noise report released last week for the Nambucca Heads to Urunga section.

But the community is no closer to a resolution despite impassioned pleas for action to reduce noise that they say is impacting their sleep and mental health.

The results from the report outline that all noise goals set for the project have been met and nothing further is required to be done. 

“We’re here to tell you your results are rubbish,” a resident said. 

At the Valla Beach Community Association (VBCA) meeting was the general manager of the Pacific Highway, an AECOM noise report official, the project environment manager, and other engineers from Roads and Maritime Services. 

Tensions ran high from the outset and furious interjections early on prompted VBCA president John Windmill and council mayor Rhonda Hoban to reason with residents before the meeting could continue. 

The first twenty minutes of the hour allocated for the community consultation was used by Mr Martinez to explain the report’s findings, a move which residents believe was designed to waste time and evade direct questions.

Burkes Lane resident Paul Coe was upset that the report failed to address the noise level criteria using language that the community could understand. 

“This report is a snow job! You have treated the people in this town with contempt because you haven’t made any attempt to translate the technical terms into something comprehensive, and that’s reprehensible,” Mr Coe said. 

“What does a decibel actually mean to the average person?”

Valla resident Paul Coe asks of those gathered if anyone understood the practical weight of a decibel.

Valla resident Paul Coe asks of those gathered if anyone understood the practical weight of a decibel.

Mr Coe also disagreed with the methodological use of averages of noise levels to assess impact. 

“With average noise levels you are hiding the fact that you can have very high noise peaks followed by periods of relative quiet,” Mr Coe said.

Project environment manager Scott Lawrence said that this was an issue to do with sleep disturbance criteria which aren’t quantifiable because the way in which people hear noise is a subjective phenomenon. 

Mr Lawrence also said that the methodology and assigned noise limits were signed off on by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and that the results complied with standard procedure. 

“I think what we’re being told is that those noise limits chosen are unacceptable to this community,” mayor Rhonda Hoban said. 

Another issue raised was the tests being conducted in November during a warm, dry stretch of weather with easterly winds; conditions which residents said lessened the impact of the noise at the time.

“If you came and did it now, the report would be completely different and it wouldn’t pass,” a resident said.

General manager Bob Higgins explained that the timing for the testing was arbitrary and carried out shortly after the road opened to traffic, according to a prescribed timeframe.

The testing used 26 indicators over the 20km stretch of highway to monitor noise levels, with only two of those located around the Valla Beach area.

The readings from one monitor within the Valla area was deemed ineligible due to local insect noise which angered Valla resident Lori Warren.

“It seems like bullshit to me that you could compare highway noise to insect noise, and even worse that you could get an accurate assessment of impact on our town from only one indicator,” Ms Warren said.

John and Tai Kingston have property at Pearl Circuit, an elevated section of estate situated right beside the highway and say the problem for them is the concrete surface of the new highway which has meant a huge change to the quality of the highway noise once the speed limit lifted to 110km per hour. 

“It’s the harmonics that absolutely drive you insane when you’re lying in bed and you have to listen to a truck whistling like a jet plane from five kilometres away,” Mr Kingston said.

“Our $3 million worth of property is now worth shite.

“I appreciate budgetary concerns in fixing the issue, but there has been a colossal impact to us as a community.”

Mr Higgins explained that there are current trials of a new concrete grinding method on sections of the Hunter Expressway which, if successful, could be used to lessen the impact of noise harmonics, but says that making amendments to plain concrete surfacing like that used in the Nambucca to Urunga section is difficult. 

The concrete is designed to crack in a routine way, bolstered by steel running throughout the pavement, but the cracks make layering asphalt on top problematic.

Residents questioned the initial decision to use concrete for the section if it was known to be difficult to amend, especially when other sections of highway were treated differently.

“There’s many issues when building a pavement, one is strength and another is durability. That concrete has a design life of 40 years.” Mr Higgins said.

“It’s very difficult for us to do anything further when we’ve got a report saying we’ve complied.” 

Residents will get further opportunity to meet with Mr Higgins and his team to voice their concerns at 3 other tabled community consultations.

Mr Higgins said that he will wait until the outcome of those consultations to make an assessment of whether anything further should be done. 

“The community can also make a representation to their state member,” Mr Higgins said. 

“That’s my agenda next week once consultations finish-trying to get an audience with our Roads Minister Melinda Pavey and pass on our petition,” VBCA secretary Melvyn Best said.

As of Monday night, the community had already amassed 700 signatures on a petition.

The final community consultation at Valla Beach will be at 6pm on Monday July 24, at the Valla Beach Tourist Park Conference Centre.

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