REPRESENTATIVES from Bass Coast Shire Council, including Mayor Neil Rankine, have been snubbed after applying to be part of the stakeholder engagement group for the planned Port of Hastings container expansion.
Late last year, the Port of Hastings Development Authority (PHDA) called on expressions of interest for community members to become involved in what was dubbed ‘PORTicipate’ – three separate engagement groups, representing the interests of community, environment and business.
Cr Rankine said he did not hear from the authority for “weeks” after nominations closed in November, and he eventually received a call from PHDA CEO, Mike Lean, just before Christmas, informing him that the board had decided no councillors would be permitted to take up any of the 25 spots available in the stakeholder network.
He said that another applicant, from the shire’s environment department, was also rejected, meaning the shire will have no presence at stakeholder meetings at all.
“I think it’s appalling,” Cr Rankine said last week.
“There is the potential impact of ships sitting off Cowes at anchor and increased tidal flows after dredging.
“These are serious considerations and they’re pretty much ignoring us.”
Cr Rankine said Mr Lean assured him that he’s only a phone call away should there be any concerns or information is needed at any time.
“But really, we should be part of the mainstream process,” Cr Rankine continued.
Cr Rankine said he has requested a meeting with the board over the matter.
The rejection came less than a fortnight after councillors, at the December council meeting, voted unanimously to seek funding for an independent Economic Impact Statement on the potential effects the development could have on the shire, with Phillip Island mentioned specifically.
Mr Lean defended the decision to keep local government representatives away from ‘PORTicipate’, stating that the board wanted to hear from “community members, the person on the street”.
“The board took the view that this was an opportunity for grassroots community engagement,” Mr Lean explained.
“The board took the view that councils are given many other opportunities to be briefed.
“I regularly brief councils myself and they have the opportunity to talk to us at any time.”
Mr Lean reiterated that he “strongly encourages” any council official to pick up the phone and ask any questions.
“This is a continual process – ‘PORTicipate’ is not the only methodology in which we will be engaging with the community over time.”
While nominees from the council may have been shunned, Mr Lean confirmed that four people from Bass Coast, including two from French Island, have been chosen as ‘PORTicipants’.
He confirmed that one of these is a representative from Phillip Island Nature Parks, and that names will be released publicly by the end of January.
Testing ‘months’ away
Marine surveys undertaken by two large jack-up barges started over a month ago, but Mr Lean has confirmed that neither barge will be visible from the coastline around Cowes “for at least another two-to-three months”.
And even then, testing near Cowes area will be limited.
“In general terms, out of the 110 boreholes (to be drilled), 80 of those are around Hastings,” he said.
“The work happening in the Long Island Precinct is the area we have always said would be the focus for container expansion, and the priority is to get that work done.
He said three boreholes will be drilled by barges near Cowes, with the closest planned 1500-metres from the coastline.
Mr Lean stated last year that such testing would not be undertaken near Cowes during the holiday period so that those holidaying on the Island would not have to “look out and see the barge on the water and wonder what it is.”
Last week, he clarified that there was more to the decision than just visual amenity.
He said that there is a recommended 100-metre zone around barges and survey vessels which fisherman and other water users should steer clear of, and with the increase in recreational activity on the water around Cowes during the summer period, the decision was made to avoid testing during the holidays.
Mr Lean was a guest speaker at the December ‘Community Plus’ meeting held the first Monday of each month at Newhaven, where he gave an overview of the project and answered questions from concerned residents.
The proposed container expansion project remained a hot topic at the January meeting, held early last week.
Cowes resident Patsy Hunt quoted from a recent Phillip Island Conservation Society (PICS) newsletter when she mentioned that there’s a lack of awareness on the Island about the development.
“Perhaps when people see those (barges out on the water), people might suddenly realise that there is a threat to Phillip Island,” Patsy said.
“A lot of people don’t seem to realise what’s going to happen.”
Mr Lean said he is scheduled to speak at a PICS meeting in late February, which is yet to be confirmed.