Ballina Shire Council saw a packed gallery for its meeting yesterday as Cr Ben Smith put forward a motion to discontinue the Ballina Ocean Pool Project.
Cr Smith said that un-budgeted costs for the ocean pool and Council’s urgent need to respond to climate change risks rather than build infrastructure in vulnerable zones were put forward as key reasons he could not support the project.
Cr Jeff Johnson responded that Ocean Pool Committee had provided an engineering report and environmental study at no cost to Council that showed the Shelley Beach site was the most suitable.
He further explained to Echonetdaily that he believes the recent scare campaign over the ocean pool is linked to the upcoming Council elections.
‘It’s hard not to think it’s linked to the Council elections that are coming up because the Ballina Ocean Pool committee has been working through the necessary planning reports for the last four to five years. This has been at no cost to Council as we received a $50,000 state government grant.’
Cr Meehan, who had seconded the motion to discontinue the ocean pool project, questioned Cr Johnson’s interpretation of the results of reports stating that the site ranked low in five out of ten criteria that were assessed. He said that debris from the river mouth, sand movement on the beach and backwash on a popular surfing break are major problems with the site.
However, Cr Meehan said that the environmental impacts on one of only two rock platforms in the entire Shire was his primary reason for opposing the pool.
Defence of the pool
Cr Eoin Johnston provided a passionate defence of the work of the Ocean Pool Committee and commended them for five years of patient work to get the project to this stage.
A fired up Cr Keith Williams then let loose at Cr Jeff Johnson and was repeatedly warned to curtail his remarks by Ballina Mayor David Wright.
Cr Williams said he regarded Cr Johnson’s behaviour as the greatest threat to the project at this time.
‘I won’t support the motion to discontinue the project, but I will insist that this project be bought back under control.’
Cr Williams continued saying that, ‘while the Ocean Pool Committee is a Committee of Council it is completely inappropriate that members of the community raising legitimate concerns are publicly denigrated by a spokesperson for the Pool Committee.
‘I was concerned when I learned the Pool Committee has been negotiating an Indigenous Land Use Agreement before Councillors had even been briefed on the process.
‘I was angry when I saw a media interview with a Pool Committee spokesperson claim that if they got funding they were ready to go to tender.
‘I was nearly apoplectic when asked by Echonetdaily why I was changing my vote on the Pool and was it just about positioning for the Mayoral election,’ said Cr Williams.
‘There’s only one Councillor here that is using this issue to campaign for the Mayoralty. There’s only one Councillor using email lists to denigrate opponents and attack other Councillors. There’s only one Councillor using promoted social media posts to whip up support.
‘The community has a right to expect that this project will comply with Council’s established policies and processes. This includes the provision of sufficient information to enable a properly structured community engagement process. We are not at that stage yet and certainly nowhere near green lighting this project’
The motion to discontinue the project was lost 7-3 with Councillors Smith, Meehan and Cadwallader voting for.
A foreshadowed motion from Cr Nathan Willis to receive a report on the financial implications of the project on the capital works budget and whether the Ocean Pool Committee should continue as a Committee of Council was then considered.
Cr Willis said that the current arrangements with the Pool Committee as a Committee of Council were confusing governance and management roles and Councillors needed better information on the implications of potential pool costs on other important capital works projects.
The motion was adopted 7-3 with Councillors Johnson, Wright and Johnstone voting against.
Following the meeting Cr Jonson spoke to Echonetdaily and said that, ‘It just reminds me of the scare campaign related to a decision by Council to convert a parking lot on the banks of Lake Ainsworth at Lennox Head into a community park. Those wanting to park down there “cause they always had” came up with about ten different reasons why it shouldn’t go ahead, most reasons were very alarmist and designed to scare local residents. It was straight out of the “divide and conquer” playbook. The campaign almost stopped the project with the vote coming down to a casting vote by the Mayor.
‘Now I understand some people don’t want an ocean pool on the rocky shelf between Shelly and Lighthouse Beaches and that some surfers are telling people that Speeds Reef (an off shore surf break that only works in certain conditions) will become “unrideable” but there is no evidence to suggest that will be the case.
‘In fact quite a few surfers have called me to say that they fully support the pool but don’t want to come out and say it.
‘I’d just remind people that this issue will be looked at and modelled before the final size, shape and exact location are determined.
‘As with all infrastructure and/or community facilities, there will be some opposition from people who would like to leave things as they are, or feel that the funding could be spent on other projects, I understand that. In the case of the Ocean Pool, I feel that the positives far out way any perceived negatives.
‘My vision has always been for an iconic, world class, low maintenance pool that is accessible to people of all ages and swimming abilities, and all physical and mental abilities, locals as well as visitors to our beautiful Shire.’