MINISTER for Ports, David Hodgett, may have been in town to spruik government spending on local jetties last week, but the subject on everyone’s lips was the proposed Port of Hastings container expansion.
During his first Bass Coast stopover at Cowes’ Anderson boat ramp, Churchill ward councillor Phil Wright took the opportunity to publicly quiz Mr Hodgett about the project.
Cr Wright said he was seeking clarification about independent assessments and the economics surrounding the proposed expansion.
He was also concerned about the prospect of the port being upgraded for coal exportation purposes, as outlined in the Gippsland Freight Strategy.
Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Neil Rankine, also stepped into the conversation, stating he’d like to see independent peer reviews undertaken.
“Tourism is the economy of Bass Coast, and that is based largely around the environment,” Cr Rankine said.
“That’s our concern.
“Bass Coast had unfortunate dealing with the (desalination plant), a big project run by the state.”
Mr Hodgett told councillors he wanted all parties to work together to “get the balance right”.
“We need economical outcomes and we need to look after environmental and tourism outcomes,” he said.
“It’s not one expense over the other.”
Half an hour later, the minister was greeted at Rhyll by 10 members of the newly-formed Protect Western Port Action Group (PWP).
Representatives from the group handed a letter both to the Minister and Bass MP Ken Smith, requesting funding to undertake both environmental and economic assessments on the impact the Port of Hastings project might have on Western Port.
“The proposed development of the Port of Hastings will be an economic and environmental disaster,” PWP spokesperson Jeff Nottle said.
“The impacts of the tidal movements following any dredging will mean that repairs to the Rhyll jetty and pontoon will become inaccessible and a waste of money, should the dredging go ahead.
“The dredging will change the tidal flows, the mud banks and sand in the region forever.”
Mr Hodgett told The Sentinel-Times that the State Government and Port of Hastings Development Authority (PHDA) want to be “as open and transparent” as it can with the local community.
“This is about getting the best possible outcome, not railroading it through without consulting,” he said.
“We’ll work with the local council and local groups.”
Meanwhile, Phillip Island Nature Parks (PINP) announced last week that it will provide independent expertise and information on penguins and seals to the PHDA.
PINP is a key stakeholder on ‘Porticipate’ – the Port of Hastings stakeholder engagement network.