A THREE hour community meeting on a proposal for a car ferry between Cowes, French Island and Stony Point failed to address key community safety, transport and environmental concerns.
And tourism advisory group EarthCheck, who hosted the meeting, will pocket its $250,000 for preparing a business case with feedback from the meetings.
EarthCheck general manager Mark Olsen chaired the meeting and said he was going to talk about the process, the demonstration of the need, impacts and issues, and the operational and developmental model.
He then asked the room of about 40 people, “What do you need to know before we leave the room today?”
Mr Olsen said the meeting was about having a conversation, but residents left without any genuine answers.
He wrote some of the initial questions on butcher’s paper and stuck it on the wall.
He was bombarded every few minutes with questions by residents, including about the location of the port, increased traffic, erosion, accommodation and emergency evacuation procedures.
But Mr Olsen managed to dodge answering most of the questions, by saying he was either going to answer it later, referenced scattered points in the San Remo and Phillip Island Visitor Economy Strategy or just couldn’t answer the question.
Cowes resident Maurice Schinkel asked about recovering the $600,000 “sunk” by the Bass Coast Shire Council and all other costs in the last decade, as it wasn’t the first time a potential car ferry was on the drawing board.
While his question was noted on the butcher’s paper, he never received an answer.
Mr Olsen insisted the meeting was about forming a discussion paper, but residents didn’t understand how they could discuss the plans if Mr Olsen didn’t answer key social and environmental concerns.
One fisherman told Mr Olsen he fishes in the morning and he’s lucky if he sees one person on the passenger ferry in the morning, questioning the viability of a car ferry.
In response to Mr Olsen saying there would be an average of 18 cars per trip, with 10 trips a day, a resident asked, “Have you been here in the middle of winter? It’s six months of the year.”
Mr Olsen said he was talking about seasonality and market demand.
“You’ve got great attractions here off-peak, they’re a great reason to travel off-peak, so unless we’re misunderstanding each other, I wouldn’t be writing off six months of the year in terms of travel here,” Mr Olsen said.
During construction, the car ferry and terminal would generate around 150 jobs during construction and 290 jobs once it’s up and running.
Plus, the car ferry’s estimated to bring in $18 million of spending to Phillip Island annually.
It instead seems Mr Olsen was mostly re-reading his notes from the San Remo and Phillip Island Visitor Economy Strategy 2035, which EarthCheck produced.
While Mr Olsen didn’t speculate how much the project would cost, the strategy said the indicative cost for the car ferry would be between $7 million and $10 million, but there would also be significant infrastructure costs.
The report, which provides more answers than Mr Olsen did, also said the preferred location of the car ferry jetty was near the Cowes Yacht Club.
It notes there’s been resident opposition to the car ferry in the past, and the plans were brought to a head in April 2010 when plans for a two storey car ferry were released, with a substantial terminal at the heart of Cowes in the Jetty Triangle.
“These plans were perceived as a visual eyesore to many, and promulgated valid future concerns over traffic management on the foreshore and the main village street,” the report said.
“This past exercise has negatively coloured the perception of any such ferry operation in and around Cowes for this sector of residents and this perception is likely to continue to be fostered in respect to any new car ferry concept.
“To get many of these detractors on board, any new development proposed would have to address the issues previously raised and will have to not only address traffic management, but the intended location of such a terminal as well.”
But residents feel the community consultation meeting did nothing to alleviate concerns.
Mr Olsen said there would be more community consultation sessions. But residents aren’t keen on doing it again if their questions aren’t answered.
Mr Schinkel said there might be half a chance residents will get worthwhile information at the next meeting.
“It’s what you might call, ‘fake consultation’. It was very disappointing.”