The closure of South Ballina Beach and Evans Head to 4WDs and other vehicles has been met with a mixed response.
The closure has been welcomed by Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) while local Ballina Shire Councillor, Keith Williams has said the state government has failed its promise of consultation with the community.
Councillor Williams says he was shocked to hear of the closure of South Ballina Beach and feels he was lied to by State government staff that had promised consultation with the community prior to any decision.
‘This is a decision made by people that do not live here, who have made no effort to understand the impacts on the local community. It stinks,’ he said.
‘The people of South Ballina have been treated with contempt. How can you make a decision like this and not even talk to your neighbours? They will now bear the brunt of illegal tracks and damage to their property as the hoons continue to seek access to the beach.’
However, according to MP Smith the beach closure to 4WDs has been an effective multi-agency decision.
‘I applaud the multi-agency decision to restrict vehicles on South Ballina Beach and thank all of the residents and community members that have worked with my office over the last six years to advocate for better public safety and protection of Aboriginal Heritage and endangered species severely impacted by ever increasing vehicle traffic.
‘Excessive numbers of 4WD vehicles on our beaches have posed a danger to the community and beachgoers. There has not been a week gone by in my office where I haven’t received a phone call, email or letter from a concerned constituent about; public safety on South Ballina beach, destruction to Aboriginal cultural sites, the endangered Pied oystercatchers or the negative impact on the environment,’ said Ms Smith.
No understanding of impact
Issues around access for fisher people, disability access, the condition of the access road, and lack of input to the decision by South Ballina residents and landowners have been raised in the past and again by Cr Williams.
‘Telling local fishers they can walk to the beach takes no account of the fact that gutters, the bits you actually fish, move regularly and it ignores our older population that have trouble walking on soft sand,’ said Cr Williams.
‘To say “just walk” while the access to South Wall is closed some 2km from the beach, because they can’t get their act together to fix the road, is just disrespectful.
‘I don’t think they have any understanding of the impacts their decision will have on locals. People that have fished that beach their entire lives, that have chosen to buy their houses at South Ballina have had no say, no chance to input.
‘The Crown Lands department could have chosen to work with the community. There are a number of ways use of the beach could be regulated, a permit system operated by Council under licence or gate keys distributed through local fishing clubs.
‘If they had been willing to talk we could have crafted a solution that enabled a win-win outcome. Better environmental protection and a supportive community.
‘Instead they have chosen the one size fits all approach. Environmental protection but at the cost of an angry and resentful local community.’
‘The enforcement operation by the Richmond Area Command through Operation Thor over the October 2021 long weekend last year was disturbingly insightful. The police were on patrol only a few hours at a time over 3 days yet 150 vehicles were stopped for random breath tests, which is an alarming statistic,’ said MP Smith.
‘Our beaches are for residents and visitors to enjoy walking and swimming, but driving up and down the beach and dune bashing is crazy. We are not talking about local fisher men and women, I know many good-hearted recreational fishers will support the closure of South Ballina beach. Often they are the first responders when ocean and wildlife have been injured by 4WD destruction or dogs. Beach access will be provided for parking and walking onto the beach at the closure point.
‘During COVID-19 there was a reprieve for vulnerable species and their food sources, locals saw increases in the number of pied oystercatchers and mixed species flocks of birds. Most of these sightings disappeared once vehicles returned to the beach.
‘The local Aboriginal communities and their allies have been very concerned about the destruction of culturally significant sites along the foreshore of South Ballina Beach.
‘I would like to thank all the organisations, Individuals and agencies who have tirelessly worked on this issue and kept my office updated on the status of South Ballina Beach over the last six years.
‘This is a win for the whole community,’ Ms Smith said.