A controversial plan to allow a wakeboarding coaching clinic on the Tweed River has been sunk.
In a shock move at yesterday’s Tweed Shire Council meeting, Cr Kevin Skinner backflipped from his previous support for the wakeboarding plan and joined opposing councillors in a narrow 4–3 vote to rescind last month’s decision that gave it the green light.
Cr Skinner explained his change of heart, which came as a surprise both to the packed public gallery and councillors, as a very difficult decision that had been weighing on his mind for months.
It was seen by observers as the swansong by Cr Skinner, who recently announced he would not run again for council at the September elections.
The Chinderah-based councillor said one of the things that convinced him to switch sides was seeing the names of people he knew and respected on a petition against the wakeboarding plan, and that as a resident of the shire for more than 40 years, he intended to maintain his strong ties with his community.
Cr Skinner said it was ‘a shame’ he could no longer support the plan as he still firmly believed wakeboarding should be allowed, but on ‘a water body separate from the river’.
His move to join mayor Barry Longland and Crs Dot Holdom and Katie Milne in refusing the development application (DA) for the wakeboarding clinic was welcomed by Fingal Heads residents and Aboriginal groups, which had strongly opposed the plan.
The proposal by the Gold Coast-based Pro-Wake Academy to run the coaching clinic from the Fingal Head boat ramp has been before council several times this year, with council planners repeatedly recommending refusal because of environmental concerns, such as riverbank erosion, and concerns for the safety of other river users.
Last month, it was given the green light, with consent conditions set to be applied.
Cr Skinner, applauded by the public gallery after giving his reasons and voting to refuse the plan, said he hoped the proponents find an alternative site for the clinic and that one day other developers could bring the sport of wakeboarding to the Tweed ‘where young people could be trained for what is heading to be an Olympic sport’.
Cr Holdom said she felt she could be wasting her time debating the issue again but she was ‘standing up for principles, 52 hooded plovers and international agreements for migratory shore birds’, which applied to their Fingal Head riverbank habitat.
Cr Milne said the refusal was ‘not about stopping small business but facilitating a wider variety of businesses to use the river’.
She said the Fingal Head community was unanimously opposed to the plan as they wanted to protect the peaceful nature and secluded areas of the river there, and passive recreation should be supported and promoted instead of its being at the detriment of the ‘extreme sport of wakeboarding’.
After the decision, Tweed-Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council’s acting chief executive Leweena Williams told Echonetdaily that the decision had ‘anchored and highlighted what the community has been saying all along that this development for this stretch of the Tweed River and immediate surrounds is not suitable’.
‘Within and surrounding the proposed development area are registered Aboriginal sites; as well it is a main thoroughfare for continued Aboriginal cultural fishing practices,’ Ms Williams, who watched the debate, said.
She said the land council had also over the years ‘completed quite a few government-funded projects on adjoining land at Letitia Spit to protect the migratory birds and seagrasses’ that were at risk of being impacted upon.
Fingal Head Community Association president Dawn Walker also applauded the decision, saying development on the Tweed ‘needs balance so the very thing that sustains our community and gives it its unique character isn’t taken away in the blink of an eye by a development better suited elsewhere’.
Spokesman for the Pro-Wake Academy, Tony Walker, said the decision meant all towing activities on the river, such as water-skiing, would be affected.
Mr Walker said that Pro-Wake company owner and head coach John Henson could go wakeboarding and coaching ‘anywhere on the river tomorrow as long as he doesn’t charge them, which is absolutely insane’.
He said Mr Henson would probably now operate a coaching clinic in the Coomera River on the Gold Coast, where wakeboarding is allowed.