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ABC News

Katherine Mayor calls for second bridge in NT town prone to major flooding

As unprecedented floods ravage northern Australia in the wake of ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie, isolating communities and damaging key roads, leaders in the small town of Katherine are once again getting worried about a vital bridge in the supply chain network.    

Built on a flood plain, Katherine is smack bang in the middle of the intersection of roads that connect the tip of the north to the rest of Australia. 

Only one bridge crossing the Katherine river is high enough to withstand the wet season, but flooding this year has highlighted the vulnerability of Australia's road network. 

On top of that, the panic experienced at the beginning of last year as supermarket shelves were left bare when parts of the Stuart Highway were submerged by floodwaters and South Australian freight companies serving the NT were forced to take a costly 3,000-kilometre detour, is still etched in the minds of many. 

Now, Katherine Mayor Elisabeth Clark, is calling on the Territory government to bring forward multi-million-dollar plans to build a second high-level bridge.

"Unprecedented is heard too often these days ... the extreme weather events that are happening now, that bridge could be a problem at any time," Mayor Clark said.

The low-level bridge, built long before Cr Clark arrived in Katherine in 1969, floods at the drop of a hat and was not constructed to handle heavy road trains.

And while a second high-level bridge is proposed as part of government plans for a heavy vehicle alternate route, it's marked for development in 15 to 20 years' time. 

Cr Clark said any disruption to the current bridge would have sweeping and widespread impacts, including to remote Aboriginal communities that often rely on freight getting through from Darwin. 

She said the NT government's Economic Growth Plan states freight networks for agriculture, mining and other sectors are primarily by road and having one bridge "is a risk for major projects".

"Trucks from the south bring exports to the Darwin port and essential supplies to the city [and] Defence currently has major development and activity at the territory's largest RAAF base at Tindal.

"You'd have to do everything by plane, you'd have to maybe barge things."

Long-term Katherine resident Steve Hyatt agreed the town needed a second bridge, but questioned where it would go, with properties on the banks of the river increasingly being bought up. 

Cr Clark agreed with Mr Hyatt and said this was another reason a second bridge needed to be built sooner rather than later. 

At a media event in Darwin on Monday, Acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison acknowledged Katherine's importance in connecting Darwin to the south and west — but did not confirm any plans to shorten the wait.

 "That type of infrastructure is going to be significant, it's something that would need commonwealth involvement as well, but we will certainly continue discussions," Ms Manison said. 

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