By Michael Giles
YOU’VE got to ask yourself why?
Why would Cr Andrew McEwen, who usually goes out of his way to praise the efforts of volunteers and community organisations, make such a public and strident criticism of the Walkerville Foreshore Reserve Management Committee, and its chairman Bill Bray, as he did at the shire council meeting recently?
In fact, you’d think Cr McEwen’s penchant for protecting the environment would line up strongly behind the actions of the Walkerville Foreshore group.
He claims it’s because the group has failed to consult properly with the community over works presently being undertaken at Walkerville North, on the seawall and boat trailer/visitor parking area, ahead of the development of a new master plan for further developments at Walkerville North.
He also appears to be critical of the way the committee has managed the project and that it has been allowed to run over budget.
Coming from a shire councillor, it’s the pot calling the kettle black, surely.
The fact is that council has been kept informed about what the committee is doing and could easily have asked for a briefing about the project’s impact on the access road into Walkerville North, if it was concerned about that, or any other aspect.
For goodness sake, they’ve even got a main line into the workings of the committee through its Manager of Planning Paul Stampton and chair of the shire’s own audit committee, no less, Dr Irene Irvine, both of whom are members of the foreshore committee, albeit in a private capacity.
But surely, if there was anything untoward going on, as Cr McEwen seemed to be suggesting at the September 27 council meeting, they would have raised a red flag to the council.
There are also a number DELWP officials on the committee as well so you’d think that key issues like community consultation would be properly covered off. We’ll no doubt hear more about that at a briefing by the foreshore committee and others, in front of the council, on October 19.
It was clear though from last Saturday’s community workshop, seeking community feedback on the draft master plan, that the foreshore committee does have a problem with the Walkerville Bluewater Boat and Angling Club and possibly others who use the coast at Walkerville.
But it’s the same problem that all coastal managers have, how best to balance the environmental issues with the needs of visitors.
And as leading coastal planning and design consultant Mark Reilly told the meeting last Saturday, that pressure is only going to grow over the next decade or so as Melbourne adds another million residents and expands in our direction.
The fishing club say they haven’t been listened to, that the foreshore committee wants to reduce boat access to the coast at Walkerville.
They say that grant money from the state government’s ‘Target One Million’ fund, which has the goal of increasing participation in recreational fishing, has been misused.
They say parking spaces for cars and boat trailers have been reduced, or at least reduced by being formalised.
Of course the criteria for the grant isn’t just about boat fishing, it can for example be used for “re-opening or upgrading tracks and roads to popular land-based fishing locations” or indeed to make fishing safer.
The fishing groups might well have a point though. They want access to the coast at Walkerville North to at least stay as is or be opened up still further.
The foreshore committee, backed by local residents and others who’ve already discovered the beauty of the coast at Walkerville, don’t want that.
Maybe you could say that having found it they are trying to keep it to themselves but Walkerville North and South have and always will have major topographic issues. Maybe, just maybe, Walkerville North is not the right place for a boat ramp and in the future, increases in day visitors will force the boats out.
The fishing club wouldn’t like that. They’ll have to go to Port Welshpool or Inverloch or somewhere else to launch their boats.
That’s the reality of trying to manage impact on the coast. There’s not always an obvious compromise that pleases everyone.
From time to time, one group might unfairly impact the desires of another group by gaining control of the levers of power, but is that the case at Walkerville? Cr McEwen seems to think so.
Or does Cr McEwen have other motives for singling the Walkerville foreshore committee for attack.
He has, on several occasions, expressed his strong support for the ‘Walkerville Coastal Village’ subdivision put forward by Ansevata Nominees, a Brighton based firm owned by the family of his colleague, Cr Jeremey Rich, which was opposed by the foreshore committee at the time.
In a Notice of Motion which reached the agenda papers for the December 16, 2015 council meeting (after council rejected the Ansevata application in October that year), he claimed the subdivision would “bring significant benefits to the region and address an existing infrastructure deficiency within this part of the shire”, among other things providing waste water treatment for the Promontory Views Estate.
The water treatment issue is still the subject of an on-going dispute between the council and Ansevata and Cr McEwen sees the subdivision as offering a solution that would at the same time reduce the council’s present liability.
But ultimately it’s all about the pressures being brought to bear on our beautiful coast, and it’s only going to increase still further.
Newcomers have every right to seek Shangri-La, just as we have before them, but the impact must be managed and properly directed.
There are going to be fights over it, increasingly so, but what we don’t need is the sort of heat injected into the debate by Cr McEwen and given his leading support for the Walkerville Coastal Village project in the past, is he the right person to be commenting on this issue involving the foreshore committee? Please explain, Cr McEwen.