Community feedback builds as plan is pushed back
It was supposed to be about measures to control erosion on the Murray River but much of the discussion at Monday night’s first information meeting on the Corowa to Ovens Junction Murray River Draft Erosion Management Plan was quickly shifted towards safety.
More than 200 residents, visitors and various government authority representatives packed the Bundalong Recreation Reserve on Monday night to hear about the plan which is set to enforce a proposed ban on wake enhancing boating activities between Bundalong and Corowa for three years.
But as the meeting progressed it was clear most of the concerns became centred on aspects of safety, etiquette, education and control.
Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) and Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) representatives initially provided various presentations about the plan and its effort to reduce boat wash to better manage erosion.
RMS General Manager Operations Policy & Performance David Hunter reminded those in attendance that the plan was a draft plan.
“I will say up front the plan is a draft, it was put together with the best information that we had at the time, which is now several months ago and is put out there on the table for people to discuss and consult with us,” Mr Hunter said.
Mr Hunter conceded more time was needed to gather all the community feedback and implement the plan effectively rather than implement it around Easter.
“That is looking less and less probable. It’s far more likely when you think about the number of comments we have been receiving about this plan and the amount of time and effort we need to put into to getting the plan right that the start date will more likely to be in the May, June, July period.
“I think it’s important that we get it right rather than rush it through. I also think that if we get something though it needs to be in place in sufficient time before the majority of people that come here for holidays can make holiday plans.
“So that middle of the year period is the best time of the year to start a new boating trial if we are going to do it.
“In order to get the best balance we need to receive as much information as possible,”
Mr Hunter outlined the revised proposed seven actions from the management plan. He said the plan was not about banning boating totally.
“It’s not about restricting a particular type of boat. It’s about stopping an activity that causes enhanced wash which causes the erosion. And it’s a trial.”
There were many questions from the floor as the meeting went beyond the scheduled finishing time of 8pm.
One question asked by a resident was why the consultation period has not been pushed back from February 28 alongside the new planned implementation date in the middle of the year?
It was also suggested that the first public meeting should have been held in a more peak time for example over Christmas and now Easter would be another suitable time to take in all opinions and views from visitors and residents.
Member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy who believes the trial ban on wake boarding and wake surfing between Bundalong and Corowa could prove disastrous for tourism in the region also asked several questions.
Mr McCurdy said that following his visit to Sydney highlighting concerns about the plan with NSW Maritime and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey late last year he reminded authorities that everyone in the community still has the same goal of wanting to “see the river protected and that is still the number one issue”.
“But we think co-existence can happen on the river as well,” Mr McCurdy said.
Mr McCurdy reminded Mr Hunter, who was also at the meeting with the minister, that a suggestion of narrowing restrictions down to a couple of sections along the river between Bundalong and Corowa was welcomed and that this may be a more appropriate measure.
However he highlighted his concerns after then reading that only five to seven percent of erosion on the river seems to be contributed by boat users and the rest from environmental causes and the rise and fall of the river.
“Then I read a final report from the Murray Darling Basin Authority that if this river closure or banning of wakeboard boating is successful they will role this out on a broader scale.
“I am concerned; is this the start of something bigger? I just need some sort of assurance that this is not the start of a broader plan,” Mr McCurdy said.
Mr Hunter said that this is the only plan on the table that aims to manage erosion through boating restrictions.
“This is the only area we have focused on at the moment,” Mr Hunter said.
There were also questions raised from the floor about the science used in the report. Authorities were quick to defend suggestions that they have not satisfactory monitored boating and its actual effects on erosion in the area.
MDBA Riparian Director Digby Jacobs said extensive monitoring has taken place and will continue throughout the consultation and trial period.
MDBA Executive Director River Management Andrew Reynolds confirmed the monitoring will be evaluated regularly.
“At the end of the trial and progressively through it we will be evaluating what we are seeing and making decisions and receiving recommendations whether we continue or whether we change it,” Mr Reynolds said.
Concerns around the lack of research of the socio-economic impacts of the plan were also raised with one visitor mentioning that his plans to buy a house in Bundalong were now on hold as a result of the trial ban.
“This affecting the economy now,” he said.
Mr Hunter conceded last week in a meeting with the Save the Boating on the Murray group that more work needed to be done to fully understand these concerns.
Mr Hunter said the working committee for the plan was made up of a federal government representative, two state government department representatives, three local council representatives and a couple of other key local stakeholder agencies.
“We came up with this plan on as much information and expertise that they could provide at the time and we thought at the time that the socio economic impact would be minimal.
“However we want to use this period now and have discussions like this to understand what those impacts will be in this area.
“We don’t fully understand that yet and that is something we are very keen to get a grasp of.”
Mr Hunter said understanding not just what gets removed but what comes in after as its replacement and what impact that has on the socio economic impact of the area must also be considered.
Monday’s night’s information session discussion quickly shifted towards concerns and suggestions around safety and boat restriction zones.
The Save the Boating on the Murray have come up with a draft activity zone plan which aims at establishing a more cohesive plan along the river taking into account all boating users. The committee has welcomed suggestions and comments regarding the activity plan.
“We have developed the plan to meet all the needs of various types of boating activities and the concerns of authorities. It’s just a draft and we welcome any feedback,” committee member Brett Butler said.