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Byron Shire
May 16, 2021

Wakeboarding on river rejected

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A bid to continue a controversial wakeboarding coaching clinic which had operated illegally for five years at Fingal Head has been knocked back.

Tweed mayor Barry Longland on Tuesday used his casting vote to reject the development application by Pro-Wake Academy to run the clinic on a stretch of the Tweed River between Chinderah and Fingal Head.

Staff had recommended refusal on a number of grounds, including the impact on environmentally sensitive riverbank areas, conflict with existing recreational river users and proximity to nearby homes.

The clinic proposed to use the Fingal Head boat ramp for launching and car parking and a nearby stretch of river for the high-speed activity.

Councillors were split 3–3 on the issue but Cr Longland used his deciding casting vote to sink the proposal, saying it would set a precedent and that the activity was a known cause of riverbank erosion, as outlined in a study later tabled at the meeting and which has now gone on public exhibition.

Cr Dot Holdom said the study showed wakeboarding had a much greater impact on riverbank erosion than jet or water skiing, wind or vessel waves, and was not an appropriate enterprise for the river.

Cr Joan van Lieshout said the wake from towing would not increase erosion and that the shire needs this type of business which would increase tourism.

Cr van Lieshout said that when the operator was told to cease his unauthorised activity last year, he did so and she felt he could ‘work with us’.

Cr Katie Milne said the Fingal Head area was one of the most biodiverse on the east coast and was vital as the nesting habitat of internationally significant migratory shorebirds.

She said wakeboarding would cause ‘massive’ erosion and severely impact on their habitat.

Cr Milne said numerous surveys showed people wanted low-key passive activities for the river and wakeboarding had five times more impact than water skiing on the riverbank.

Cr Phil Youngblutt, who had unsuccessfully moved to give in-principle support to the operation, said the river was ‘greatly under-used at the moment’.

A rescission motion by Crs van Lieshout, Youngblutt and Warren Polglase was later lodged and will be debated at next month’s meeting, when Cr Kevin Skinner, who was absent this week, is tipped to back the move to reverse the decision.

Pro-Wake Academy manager John Henson and his spokesman, local water skier Gavin McGahey, last week appealed to councillors to allow the clinic to continue operating, saying it would attract tourism and had a lower impact on the river than other users such as speedboat operators.

Fingal Head Community Association has urged councillors to reject the application, saying an independent study had identified wakeboarding as a cause of serious environmental damage and the sport had been banned from other major rivers in Australia.

‘Residents are tired of rates being used to repair the damage caused by wakeboarding and other wake-producing activities,’ spokesperson Dawn Walker said.

‘This is a commercial activity, a business, that will rob Tweed residents of the peace of their river, its bird life, its dolphins, its river banks, its quiet family fishing spots, its sailing club, its amenity for passive family enjoyment. This is why people come here and not the Gold Coast. Let’s preserve our point of difference and our river.’



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