A 30-metre-long public pontoon is to be built on the Tweed River at Chinderah after Tweed shire councillors gave it the green light last night.
The proposed pontoon on Chinderah Bay Drive near the local tavern, to be built and operated by council, has drawn some controversy over the past two years with various community and river-interest groups and businesses at loggerheads over the plan.
The plan sparked some heated debate after it was solely opposed by Cr Katie Milne, a longtime advocate for river protection, who sought deferral to consider including no-wake and low-speed zones.
The Greens councillor also wanted the to see if a third of the pontoon could be set aside for passive recreation such as fishing and swimming, as well as access for the disabled, so it would be a bigger drawcard and not ‘dominated exclusively by power boats’.
Cr Milne said residents and experts had concerns that the pontoon, in a tidal area, would attract more power boats which caused wake and eroding fragile riverbanks.
But Cr Barry Longland, who was replaced as mayor only half an hour earlier (see story in Echonetdaily), voted with the pro-development faction (Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne) to sink her proposed amendment, in a 3-4 vote (Crs Milne and Armstrong and new mayor Gary Bagnall for).
Cr Milne then tried to move a further amendment, suggesting councillors may have to take some responsibility for any accidents on the pontoon, which sparked an angry backlash from some councillors who called for it to be ruled out of order, which new mayor Cr Bagnall promptly did.
The vote for the staff recommendation to approve the pontoon was 6-1 (Cr Milne against).
Cr Milne had argued that some in the Chinderah community had concerns the pontoon could create more problems and more assessment was therefore needed.
She said a lot more jet skis and wakeboarders were using the stretch of the river where the pontoon is planned and no-wake zones and lower speed limits for power boats should be considered.
‘Deferring is our greatest opportunity to put the pressure on the RMS (Roads and Maritime Service) to get wakeboarding and jetskis activity out of this fish nursery area and make it a family friendly passive recreation hub,’ she said.
But new deputy mayor Cr Youngblutt said a pontoon was solely used for mooring craft and ‘boats do not come in fast, at almost no speed at all’.
He said nearly all boats in the river were power boats and speedboats and wakeboarding ‘had nothing to do with a pontoon, this is a just a mooring’.
Cr Polglase said any further delay in the pontoon would be ‘very disappointing for the people of Chinderah people as council has put it on hold for the past 18 months’.
He said a $60,000 government grant for the pontoon had already been lost because of the delay and any deferral was ‘just another opportunity for our green councillors to try to slow the project down or get rid of it’.
He said the pontoon would complement recent improvements at Chinderah such as rock revetment walls and toilets and pushing the project back would ‘destroy the vision for Chinderah’.
Staff say in their report that a recent review of environmental factors for the pontoon concluded it was not likely to have any significant impact on the environment, including critical habitat or threatened species.
They say the development will improve the recreational infrastructure of the area.
The 30-metre-long, three-metre wide structure, to be located within a council-maintained riverside reserve, will be connected to a 20-metre long gangway fastened with a concrete abutment at the bank.
It will be connected to four concrete piles driven into the river bed.
After the meeting Cr Milne said the staff the review of environmental factors ‘did not mention turbidity as a problem for seagrass but this is what we won the case on for the Chinderah Marina’, referring to a landmark case she fought before entering politics which scuttled a large marina for the area.