By Bass Coast Shire Councillor Ronnie Bauer
NO ISSUE has or will be more divisive for Phillip Island than the reintroduction of a car ferry from the Mornington Peninsula to Cowes.
In 2010, an attempt was made to replace the existing jetty with a car ferry terminal which resulted in a protest of more than 1000 people on the Cowes football oval against the size and architecture of the terminal.
It should be noted the protest was not against the principle of having a car ferry service to Cowes, but the infrastructure design.
As a result, a motion was passed at council (or so it was thought) that any further investigation for a car ferry would need to exclude the area from Mussel Rocks to Erehwon Point.
Let’s move forward to 2017.
The state government proposed the creation of a scenic tourist road trip: a car ferry between Cowes and Stony Point that would link the Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula, mainland Bass Coast, Wilsons Promontory and the Gippsland Lakes.
The draft business case presented in November 2017 recommended four possible sites for the car terminal: the Anderson Street boat ramp, two options at the Cowes Yacht Club and Mussel Rocks.
The Cowes Yacht Club, at an AGM, voted unanimously to oppose the car ferry at their site, and the Anderson Street site was opposed by the Cowes West Action Group.
A concentrated campaign began to persuade the Bass Coast Shire Council to extend the business case to include the Cowes Jetty.
In March 2018, more than 1000 people marched down Thompson Avenue to the site of the proposed terminal at Mussel Rocks.
A large media campaign was mounted by Save Our Beaches.
The Stony Point to Cowes business case recommending the Mussel Rocks location was listed for adoption for the April council meeting.
A notice of motion was presented that the Cowes Jetty be considered for the site of the car ferry terminal, subject to an environmental impact study.
The cost of the study till that point was $200,000.
The state government refused to fund an additional $200,000 to scope the Cowes Jetty.
Sometime later, council definitively dismissed the original four sites.
Council, in its 2019 budget, allocated $120,000 for the study and expected the state government to contribute $80,000.
We have now been informed that the state government has agreed to fully fund the $200,000, for the scoping study of the Cowes Jetty.
The jetty has just undergone a band-aid repair job of over $1million so that emergency vehicles can again go onto it.
In the 2017 business case, $7million was allocated to refurbish the jetty.
Before any further money is needlessly spent on the maintenance of the existing jetty, a new approach to the use of the jetty should be considered.
Learning from the past mistakes
It is important to engage the community group stakeholders, local traders and general community throughout the project.
It is also important to directly notify the residents of the progress of the project.
From past experiences, the lack of information forthcoming can give rise to many unfounded rumours, conspiracy theories and straight out lies about the project.
Concept of the car ferry
Both the 2010 and the 2018 project faltered by being a stand-alone jetty for the car ferry.
On both occasions, the majority of the community supported the concept of the car ferry, but rejected the design and the location of the terminal.
We must learn from these attempts.
The car ferry landing area should be as unobtrusive as possible.
The ferry landing should not dominate the precinct as the 2010 design did.
Any buildings on the promenade should start approximately 50 metres from the shore, so the eye has an uninterrupted view of the Cowes front beach
while walking on the foreshore, just as we have now.
Emergency access point
The bushfires in 2019/20 in Mallacoota showed how essential a port evacuation site is.
The island is blessed to have direct access to Western Port.
In an emergency, the ferry docking station or the cruise ship berthing could be used as an evacuation point for the rescue ships from Cerberus.
The bridge on the southern end of the island is the only access point for the whole island.
The Mallacoota event has shown how vulnerable a coastal township can be in a cataclysmic event.
Though there are a plethora of traffic management studies for Phillip Island and Cowes, a traffic management plan specifically done for traffic flow to and from the jetty does not exist.
Making the promenade a pedestrian mall with an electric bus carrying people to the intersection of Thompson Avenue and Church Street should be considered.
Cowes Activity Centre Plan
Any outcomes from the scoping study must be incorporated into the Cowes Activity Centre Plan 2021, which is currently being developed.
Replacing the aged Cowes Jetty with a pier that is a continuation of Thompson Avenue makes sense.
The new pier would be a new and vibrant precinct for Cowes.
It would solve the issue of the car ferry entry point to Phillip Island and give tourists another reason to explore Cowes.
The new pier would be a multi-functional piece of infrastructure with cruise ships, emergency vessels and pleasure craft being able to berth, and tourists being able to perambulate from one end to the other and enjoying the experience of the sea air retail and dining.
There could also be a designated area so people could still try their hand at fishing and youngsters can jump in.
There is no reason that the land end of the pier could not be utilised for events, as is currently being done.
All this project needs is vision and the will to carry it to fruition.
Note: This paper is my personal view and does not reflect or suggest the view of any of the other councillors of Bass Coast Shire, any of the officers of the Bass Coast Shire, the CEO of the shire or the Mayor or Deputy Mayor of the shire.