Australia's first saint intensifies bypass row

  • Monday 28 December 2009

The impending canonisation of Australia's first saint has intensified a row about a proposed bypass for Penola in Coonawarra.

Visitors to Coonawarra are expected to treble following the creation next year of Saint Mary MacKillop.

In 1866 at Penola on the southern tip of the famed 'terra rossa' Coonawarra strip MacKillop co-founded the Sisters of St Joseph, and a network of schools, orphanages and reformatories throughout south eastern Australia and New Zealand.

Pope Benedict XVI on December 20 announced the recognition of a second miracle attributed to her.

With her canonisation visitor numbers - currently 20,000 a year - are expected to increase to up to 60,000.

About 550 heavy vehicles daily travel along the Riddoch Highway which forms Penola's main street and which also passes most Coonawarra wineries outside the town.

A proposed pulp mill south of the town is expected to boost truck numbers to about 800.

Penola businesses and winery owners want the trucks diverted but the council says it can only afford to build a by-pass of the town and not the wineries - and still needs some federal government funding.

Foster's Group, Rathbone Family Wines'-owned Parker Coonawarra Estate, and Jim Barry Wines, together have eight hectares of prime vineyards which under the plan would be compulsorily acquired.

They mounted litigation claiming the Council had not lodged planning documents within a specified three-month time frame and, in June, council decided not to contest the case.

But on 8 December, the Council decided to re-start the planning process, re-introduced the same plan and voted in favour of it pending the result of other legal action by a ratepayers’ and residents' group objecting to the plan’s likely impact on common land.

Foster's and Rathbone spokespersons said they remained opposed to the proposal. The companies have suggested alternative routes.

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