Sparks flew and tensions flared at the Eurobodalla Council's public forum held to discuss Coopers Island Road in Bodalla and find an agreeable solution for all parties.
Councillors heard from 14 speakers made up of representatives from the Tuross community, NSW Department of Primary Industries and the owners of the land the road intersects.
Following the forum, a council meeting was held to vote on whether the road should be sold to the landowners or maintained as a public road.
Councillors resolved to maintain ownership of the road, but allowed a gate the owners had installed at the entrance to the road to stay as a matter of public safety.
A number of issues presented by the community and landowners during the forum painted a picture of frustration with how council had handled the situation since the gate was installed by the landowners in 2019.
The landowner said she and her family did not dispute the public's use of the road, however a number of inappropriate uses of the land by the public prompted them to install the gate, which was always unlocked.
"We were given verbal approval from the council planning department to install the gate to avoid fatality from cattle walking onto the Princes Highway," she said.
"Immediately we were met with resentment from a small minority in the community, and an online and public smear campaign against us which deserves no comment."
Such resentment was displayed just 10 minutes into the public forum, when a fiery exchange over defamatory comments saw a speaker and Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes leave the room.
Cr Innes returned to the room later for the council meeting.
Community members raised issues with private property signage by the gate they said had deterred people from using the public road.
They also called out lack of signage regarding biosecurity which the owners had referenced as further evidence the gate and fencing was needed.
"Private property signs were put by the gate to deter people from walking through paddocks, but the gate is not locked and has never been," the landowner said.
She added the farm did have a biosecurity plan in place, but on multiple occasions the signs alerting to it were stolen or destroyed.
READ MORE: Cold snap continues on South Coast
Tuross residents maintained the road should remain public as it provided access to a popular fishing spot.
Tuross Head resident and advocate for recreational fishers and boaters Max Castle said the road was the only comfortable access point to Trunketabella Lake, and had been used by the community previously without issue.
"The community is frustrated council has done nothing to address ongoing conflict over a long period of time," he said.
"We suggest council not sell the road and allow it to remain open for access, and council should seek 100 percent funding from NSW Fisheries for a fishing platform."
Councillors Mayne, Thomson, Tait, Constable, McGinley and Pollock voted in favour of keeping the road public, while Councillor Innes voted against the motion.
"I understand the rationale behind the community wanting to keep [the road] open to the public, however I do not feel that by taking this avenue we will be resolving the conflict that is still going to exist," Cr Innes said.
"I have seen some reprehensible behaviour by those hoping to keep this road open and I have sympathy towards landowners in an isolated area dealing with people such as what was witnessed this morning."
As part of the resolution, councillors agreed the gate could be kept at the entrance to the road.
Councillors also agreed to allocate up to $40,000 from the 2020-21 budget to realign the road back onto the road reserve to improve safety and minimise conflict between livestock and road users.
Coopers Island Road is a public road and provides access to the Bowns Creek waterway and a privately owned farm.
Members of the public can legally fish or launch kayaks from the causeway. The previous landowners were dairy farmers and facilitated public use while council maintained the road, causeway and the bridge.
In 2017, the land was purchased by a new owner and the use of the farm changed to Wagyu beef. The new land owner raised concerns about public use of the area, and eventually offered to purchase the road from council.
This proposal was disputed by the community who raised concerns about being able to access the public waterway if the road became privatized.