THEY’VE cried foul, the recreational fishermen who use the beach-based boat ramp at Walkerville North.
Members of the Walkerville Bluewater Boat and Angling Club have accused the Walkerville Foreshore Reserve Committee of Management of accepting a $133,000 grant from the State Government’s ‘Target One Million’ fund on false pretences.
The fund, they say, is supposed to be used to get more people fishing more often, not less, with the goal of increasing participation to one million people by 2020.
It’s a serious economic development initiative not only getting families outdoors and more active but also creating jobs and boosting local economies with recreational fishing in the state already generating $2.3 billion annually.
But they’ve accused the foreshore committee of using the money (as part of a $900,000 possibly up to $1.5m project) to reduce, not increase the number of car and boat trailer parking spaces at Walkerville North, while making access more problematic for fishermen and also of failing to consult.
It seems, that on the last score at least, they may have a point.
But it might simply be that the foreshore committee has attached different priorities to the funding, using it predominantly to reconstruct 350 metres of seawall to limit erosion of the only road in while making access to the beach and the boat ramp safer.
In a location where space is severely restricted by steep terrain and native vegetation on one side and the ocean on the other, not to mention the local community’s fears for the environment; it may be that something had to give and it was the boat trailer parking.
The dispute was certainly the elephant in the room at a community workshop on the new Walkerville North Foreshore Reserve Master Plan, at the tiny Walkerville North Hall last Saturday.
And it generated much of the heat in a withering attack by Cr Andrew McEwen on the management committee and its chairman Bill Bray at a recent South Gippsland Shire Council meeting.
So what’s the problem?
According to a spokesman for the fishing group, its president Kevin Jones, the foreshore reserve committee of management has cut the number of car and boat trailer parking spaces, between the hall and the beach access to the boat ramp, from around 40 (car and trailer spaces) to 21 as part of the present works.
And there’s been no attempt to fix the problem, if that was even possible, within the scope of the new master plan.
“It would be the only boat ramp in Australia where the closest 10 parking spaces to the boat ramp are set aside for visitor car parking only,” said Mr Jones.
The dispute over car and boat trailer parking has been going on for quite a while as the latest friction in a fractious relationship between the opposing uses and philosophies of the recreational fishermen and the local property-owning beach goers.
Mr Bray says the matter was decided when the permit for the present work (seawall, rehabilitation of existing road and construction of new car and boat trailer parking, retaining walls and footpaths) was issued in August last year.
All community groups, he said, were given the opportunity for input and a decision is long passed.
But Mr Jones says the reduction and changes to parking for cars and their boat trailers, which he claims is designed to discourage, not encourage fishing, only became clear later.
“There had been no mention that they were going to reduce boat trailer parking. They danced around the truth on that issue,” he said, claiming they shouldn’t have accepted the government’s $133,000 fishing grant if they weren’t going to enhance fishing facilities.
“And when we realised our views weren’t being listened to we wrote to the Minister and a meeting was convened on December 1 last year.”
Among those who attended the meeting in the Walkerville North Hall were Special Coordinator of the State Government’s Target One Million Plan, Craig Ingram, as well as Cr Andrew McEwen, Cr Jeremy Rich, and members of the shire’s engineering department, the foreshore committee, DELWP representatives and recreational fishermen. It was a big cast.
According to Mr Jones, a resolution was hammered out at that meeting that a sub-committee be formed to consider the fishing group’s concerns, about a reduction in parking spaces, and also safe access to the boat ramp.
“But the subcommittee never met,” Mr Jones said.
“We weren’t properly consulted with,” he said.
Mr Bray claims that’s simply not true. The sub-committee did meet he says. And never the twain shall meet on that score.
“Well I’d like to see the minutes from that meeting because I wasn’t invited and no one else I know was,” Mr Jones said during an impromptu meeting with Mr Bray outside the hall last Saturday afternoon.
Whatever the situation, all will be revealed at a public briefing session with the council on Wednesday, October 18 when Mr Bray has promised to provide full disclosure. Other parties to the dispute will also be able to present in the open forum.
In any case, Mr Jones says there appears no chance of changing the scope of the works presently underway and the new masterplan might actually reduce parking still further, as admitted by planning consultant Mark Reilly of Tract Consulting at Saturday’s community workshop.
The local fishing group wants the State Government to investigate and they also want the shire council to hold off on giving the foreshore committee an additional $61,850 towards a $200,000 blowout in the cost of the works until the matter can be clarified.
In fact, they claim the real cost of the works could run as high as $1.5 million, well in excess of the original estimate.
The shire council deferred a further allocation of funds at the September meeting of council: “…until such time as councillors have received a briefing on the matter detailing project specifics and background information from all stakeholders relating to the proposed increased contribution of shire funds to the Walkerville Foreshore Committee project be provided. The briefing to include information on consultation undertaken by the committee.”
These details are to be tabled at council’s October 25, 2017 Ordinary Council meeting.
The foreshore management committee is hopeful of completing the works by Christmas, when the annual and increasing hordes of visitors arrive.
Between a rock wall and a hard place