GOOD NEWS WEEK: Wentworth Shire Mayor Melisa Hederics, her deputy, Councillor Tim Elstone, and the Member for Murray Austin Evans at Wentworth Aerodrome this week for a welcome multi-million dollar funding announcement. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

GOOD news for Wentworth this week following the announcement of a massive $8.4million grant from the NSW Government.

The cash injection – the largest government spend ever seen in the region – will fund essential improvements to the Shire’s Wentworth Aerodrome runway and attendant infrastructure.

Works are expected to be undertaken during the next 18 months, with Wentworth Shire Council (WSC) to contribute a further $700,000, taking the total project spend to $9.1million.

At the heart of the project will be an upgrade to the airport runway, transforming it into a sealed, all-weather capable surface.

The tarmac, taxiway, lighting and communications capabilities will also be added or upgraded, enabling medium-sized turboprop aircraft carrying more than 20 passengers to use the airport for the first time.

Making the announcement at the Wentworth Aerodrome on Wednesday, Member for Murray Austin Evans said that there were a number of benefits that would flow directly as a result of the upgrade.

“(It) will transform the current airport into a well-used facility with great benefits for the Wentworth Shire area,” he said. “We are really proud that we have been able to deliver this much-needed funding, for what has been a great proposal from Wentworth Shire Council, who have lobbied hard to achieve this outcome.”

Mr Evans said as little as 5mm of rain falling on the existing dirt runway currently forces the aerodrome to close for several days.

“Greater capacity will benefit local growers and graziers using aircraft for crop-dusting, mustering and aerial surveys as well as allow tourism, corporate and mining charters to make use of the aerodrome,” he said.

“Upgrading the aerodrome will also enable students from the pilot training school at Mildura Airport to be based at Wentworth Aerodrome, which will provide economic flow-on benefits to local businesses.

“Greater access will also assist emergency service agencies such as NSW Police, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW State Emergency Service, Royal Flying Doctors and Air Ambulance when they are staging operations or conducting flights.”

Wentworth Mayor Melisa Hederics said that it was exciting news for the Council, adding that the funding win was the result of a lot of hard work.

“It’s something that we have been pushing to get across the line,” she said. “I have been a little worried that with the State election coming up, we may have found ourselves in ‘caretaker mode’ without a decision being made.

“However, we have just made it in time to get this money from the Government, which is just fantastic.”

Cr Hederics said that there were a number of opportunities that the Council was looking at, including having a pilot training academy utilise the site.

“An international pilot training company is considering using our airstrip to train their pilots,” she said. “They are talking about a large number of pilots coming into the region to train at both the Mildura Airport and here.”

The importance of having the runway sealed was highlighted by Cr Hederics, who said that Wentworth was one of the only towns in NSW with an unsealed runway.

“We are the only town in the State of NSW not to have a sealed runway, so this is very exciting for us and it heralds good times ahead for the Shire,” she said.

“The Deed of Agreement allows for a two to three-year window to undertake the works, but I would like to see it completed within the life of the current Council, which has another 18 months to run.

“These sort of projects don’t happen without the support of all of the Councillors getting behind them, and I have been well and truly backed by them and my Deputy Mayor.

“We went to Sydney to meet with Deputy Premier John Barilaro to convince him of the project’s merits, and we sold this project to him, but to be able to do that we had to have the backing of our fellow Councillors, which we did.

“The township of Wentworth will benefit from the upgrade, it will be a win-win for them on a number of fronts.”

WSC acting general manager, Ken Ross, said the announcement was very exciting, and was a credit to the Mayor, her Deputy and the other hard-working Councillors.

“They have built a positive relationship with the Government, and now I have the Deed of Agreement on my desk ready to be actioned,” he said. “The Mayor and I will sign it and have it submitted before Caretaker mode comes into force this week.”

In a press release issued prior to the announcement, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the NSW Government was taking action to provide businesses with the infrastructure they need to succeed, allowing them to focus on expanding their operations and creating new jobs.

“Upgrading the Aerodrome will provide opportunities for local industries to work more efficiently and grow their business, benefiting the local economy and creating more job opportunities,” he said.

“More directly, the Wentworth Aerodrome project will create 37 full-time equivalent jobs during construction and up to 35 training and accommodation industry jobs when upgrades are complete.

“This is exactly what Growing Local Economies grants is intended to do, and I congratulate Wentworth Shire Council on this funding win and look forward to seeing the growth and benefits that this project will generate.”

While in the region on Wednesday, Mr Evans also announced that WSC had been awarded $22,500 for a scoping study to identify essential upgrades and process improvements required at Wentworth Water Treatment Plant.

Mr Evans also presented a cheque for $10,000 to the Gol Gol Primary School to be put toward a running track and Fitness Centre, and lastly met with a group of prominent seniors from the Shire at the Midway Centre in Buronga, where he presented them with Seniors Local Achievement Awards.