COOK Shire Council has refused to be intimidated by lawyers for the Irwin family and Australia Zoo, voting unanimously to keep the track known as Bertiehaugh Road open.
The track, accessed via Stones Crossing, north of Weipa, has been a hot issue in the Cape for more than a decade.
At last week’s Cook Shire Council meeting, councillors were faced with a road closure application from Silverback Properties, a company owned by Australia Zoo’s Terri Irwin and her family.
The Irwins pulled out all stops, too, hiring FC Lawyers to put together a comprehensive document to sway the councillors to vote to close the road.
“The road passes through the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, a pristine parcel of land surrounded by areas abolished by mining (sic), and acts as a haven for many species of flora and fauna,” the lengthy legal correspondence read.
“The SIWR supports 35 different ecosystems and there are over 40 species of conservation significance which are either threatened by extinction, endemic to the area or have a restricted distribution.
“So far, the following have been recorded on the reserve: 21 amphibians, 48 fish species 170 birds, 20 mammals; and 47 reptiles.”
At the meeting, it was revealed Cook Shire was hit with a large Freedom of Information request from FC Lawyers, which took dozens of hours of staff time to fulfil.
But the decision to keep the gazetted road open took just minutes.
Deputy mayor Robyn Holmes, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Peter Scott, said there was no compelling reason for Cook Shire Council to close the road.
“I acknowledge the work the Irwins do in regards to environmental management on that property but there has been strong support from key stakeholders to keep it open, including TCICA (Torres and Cape Indigenous Councils Alliance),” she said.
The motion to keep the road open was moved by Cr Ross Logan and seconded by Cr Peter Burns.
THERE had been a road through Bertiehaugh Station (now known as the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve) for years while it was a cattle station.
When the Irwin family purchased the property in 2007 – with taxpayer money – it was able to de-gazette the existing road, on the proviso that a new road was gazetted through the property.
A line was drawn on a map and most of the road only existed on paper.
Last year, a group of Cape York residents pushed through the track using GPS markers.
It’s a genuine four-wheel drive track that has already attracted a lot of tourism to the Western Cape, as intended.
The Irwins insist people have been venturing into their property since the track was opened and want it closed to prevent fires, the spread of weeds and trespassing.
With support from the Western Cape Chamber of Commerce, Cook Shire Council is about to erect signs at the entry point of Stones Crossing, urging travellers to do the right thing.
The Irwins currently make money from allowing exclusive tour group buses to traverse through their property. They also lease part of the reserve for cattle grazing.