The picturesque watercourse in the header on the main page of the Politics & Environment Blog, is Cooper Creek. It is a relatively short watercourse (∼8 km), running between Thornton Peak and its mouth, which drains an enormous catchment in one of the world’s highest rainfall areas.
Over these past three days, about 250 mm of rain has fallen and as expected the causeway crossing over the Cape Tribulation Road has flooded (please excuse the blurred photo).
This is a regular occurrence in the wet season. Two years ago, students living north of Cooper Creek were unable to access 25% of their first term, because of flooding. It is also an almost annual occurrence that a driver will unsuccessfully attempt to cross, losing their vehicle to the power of the flood and being tumbled downstream into crocodile habitat.
Invariably, the impassable floods cause stress to large numbers of travelers on unforgiving schedules. Hundreds of vehicles and pedestrians crowd either side of the water’s edge in a forlorn hope that the combined vigilance and force of will will somehow speed the recession.
Yesterday I witnessed a particularly ugly display of road rage as tensions rose, stopping just short of physical violence. Last time the causeway flooded, a frustrated traveler described the scene as a new order of official mayhem, “Working in Queensland Mental Health, I thought I knew administrative incompetence,” she remarked, “but this is in another order of ineptitude, entirely!”
So how is it that such a well-used and strategically important facet of transportation infrastructure is kept so inadequately low? Surely there is a duty of care to protect the public from such well-known vulnerabilities? Then again, there haven’t yet been any deaths; just a large number of very close calls.
In the lead-up to the Local Council elections (15th March ’08), one candidate has told of the ecological integrity of Cooper Creek as occupying the highest consideration – leaving the causeway incapable of being elevated. As absurd as this notion may sound, it was indeed the ecological values of the Cooper valley that justified unparalleled regulatory protection, under World Heritage and, downstream of the causeway, so that Queensland can compare all potential impacts on all other mangrove communities. So rigorous is this special provision that a person can be fined up to $225,000 if caught fishing, though such sensitivity would seem to fly in the face of the ecological damage of heavy machinery, recovering vehicles washed downstream.