Ballina Shire councillor Jeff Johnson says the recent scare campaign and protests against the proposed Ballina Ocean Pool at Shelly Beach are based on misinformation.
Concerns have been raised around the potential negative environmental impacts of the pool on the rock shelf, that it will destroy the surfing due to water backwash, that the costs of maintenance will be significant and that there was no consultation with the community.
Councillor Kieth Williams who is questioning his support of the ocean pool proposal says that there has been significant community concern raised with him.
‘I have been supporting the project to get to this point but I am reconsidering my position on it due to the representations I have been receiving from the community,’ said Cr Williams.
Ecology of rock pools
Cr Johnson says that over the last four years they have been looking at the project they have had experts in to address these areas of concern.
‘We have looked at the ocean pool with the aim of ensuring that it has no impact on the surf, that it has minimal impact ecologically, that is it accessible to the elderly, young and people with disabilities and we have sought out expert consultants to look at these areas to ensure that this is the case,’ he told Echonetdaily.
According to the studies they have had done there wouldn’t be a significant impact on the ecology of the rock platform. Cr Johnson points out that the pool would cover less than ten per cent of the rock platform and that studies by staff from the ‘Southern Cross University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre found that the Shelly Beach rock shelf “supports a relatively low diversity of common intertidal species, none of which are identified as rare or of conservation significance”. In fact, the section where we have chosen as the most suitable location for the pool was “found to support significantly lower richness and diversity than other rock platforms”’.
Impact on surf zone
Associate Professor Rob Brander From UNSW was asked to look at the potential impact of the pool on the surf zone and concluded that it would in ‘no way detrimental to any existing physical processes involving breaking waves, alongshore water movement and currents and the transport of sediments. However, this has been disputed by an engineer who is a member of the Surfrider Foundation said Cr Williams.
The Surfrider Foundation has told councillors that they are considering enlisting Speeds Reef, that is off Shelly Beach, as an endangered wave and will potentially ‘engage an associate coastal geomorphologist’ to challenge the assertions of Associate Professor Brander.
However, Cr Johnson has pointed out that many members of the voluntary committee are surfers themselves as is Associate Professor Brander and that was a key requirement in the site selection process.
Need detailed design specs
Talking to Echonetdaily Councillor Williams made it clear that ’we don’t have the engineering designs for the proposed ocean pool so there are many unknowns regarding the project. Until you’ve got the proper designs we won’t know exactly how it will function. I don’t want to be in a position where we green-light a project just because we’ve got funding.
‘Many people have pointed out that they use and love the area as it is. We need more information to make a clear assessment about its impacts on the ecology, the surf and the costs of ongoing maintenance,’ he said.
In regards to cost Cr Johnson has pointed out the fact that the ‘Ballina Ocean Pool will cost less than most (if not all) other Council facilities and the community (and visitors) can use it for free’ due to its low maintenance design.
With council elections due in six months Cr Johnson says that ‘it’s a real shame that this issue has become a bit of a political football’.
‘I am surprised at the change of position from three of the local councillors who previously supported the project,’ said Cr Johnson.
‘The process has been subject to detailed assessment throughout that have actively addressed these concerns long before they were raised.
‘It is our aim to design a modern Ocean Pool that will set new standards in Engineering, including minimising periodic maintenance, enhancing biodiversity, having no impact on the beach for other beach users, and minimal (if any) environmental impacts.’