Last weeks Richmond Valley Council meeting saw Councillor Jill Lyons put a motion ‘to close the beach from the Airforce Beach entrance at Evans Head through to South Ballina’.
Cr Lyons said that after so many years it was ‘crunch time’ and that council should ‘make it a priority to close the beaches’ to vehicles.
This was supported by Dr Richard Gates from the Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development who pointed out that ‘It is now 44 years since the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation released its report OFF-ROAD VEHICLES Impact on the Australian Environment. The Committee took more than 2,000 pages of evidence during public hearings. Even then there was “an… increase in public expression of concern at the growing environmental damage …and social nuisance caused by off road vehicles in various areas including beaches”.
‘I have some sympathy for the view that public land should be available to us all. I have owned a 4WD since 1975 but in 1980 decided not to use it on the Evans Head to Ballina beach even though I had been using that beach since 1955, sometimes in a 4WD. There were three main reasons for that decision. First, the significant decline in shorebird, pippy and ghost crab populations even then, and damage to the structure of the beach caused by 4WDs and motorbike riders.
‘Second the witnessing of a child almost being killed by a 4WD, at Air Force Beach… And third, but not least, was the loss of amenity of the beach environment for walkers/fishers frequently disturbed by vehicles passing at speed without care for pedestrians or the beach, and who drove into flocks of roosting birds sometimes killing them.’
However, the motion failed due to the lack of a seconder.
GMs motion gets up
Councillor Robert Hayes then put the General Manager, Vaughan Macdonald’s recommendation:
‘That Council: 1. Notes the history of the Ballina beach closures, the actions of other land managers to restrict access to 4WDs and Richmond Valley Council’s response to the revised access arrangements.
2. Authorises the General Manager to write to Ballina Shire Council, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (Crown Lands) and National Parks and Wildlife Services to seek written advice on their proposed arrangements for managing beach access exemptions and seeking an agreed position between the four land managers for addressing future exemption requests.
3. Reports back to Council when responses from all organisations are received, with details of the proposed management strategy.’
Councillor Hayes told the meeting that ‘while he appreciated what Dr Gates had to say, it was too early to close the beach at this stage…’ and that ‘more evidence’ was needed and that he ‘wouldn’t support beach closure until then’.
The motion was seconded by Councillor Sam Cornish who said ‘I appreciate Dr Gates and Cr Lyons views but it was jumping the gun not to put the current recommendation’.
Councillor Lyons attempted to modify the motion saying that ‘Council was chasing its tail over and over again’. She then read from a letter from a 78 year old fisherman who said that ‘the beach is being destroyed by the amount of traffic on the beach’.
However, the amendment was unsuccessful with no seconder coming forward. The original motion was carried with Cr Lyons voting against.
Head in sand
Dr Gates told The Echo that ‘while he was disappointed in Council’s failure to support the closure of the beach the response was not unexpected as council had a long history of keeping its “head in the sand” when it came to a genuine consideration of the real environmental and other issues which affected the long term health of the beach.’
He cited the example of dredge spoil being dumped on the beach which ruined the beach for several years and Council’s failure to act in that case.
‘I don’t know what other discussion have been held behind closed doors about the beach as Council did not publish the outcomes of its behind-closed-doors workshops nor was the public permitted to attend these sessions,’ he said.
‘Mention was made of representation from an unnamed group and of a request for an extra key to be cut to access the beach through locked gates which begs the question what other matters have been canvassed? The public is entitled to know. Such information should not be secret. There must be transparency about what is happening.’
Dr Gates said that he was aware of a group pushing for the South Ballina Beach to be reopened and has seen a diagram alleged to be from that group showing what they wanted to be opened up. However, he said he was unaware of whether or not it was that group which had made representation to Richmond Valley Council and/or other agencies.
Dr Gates said that ‘Council had an obligation under the Local Government Act to the “Principle of Intergenerational Equity” and to the other “Principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development” but, as in the past, had ignored its responsibility to future generations. He said that he was none-the-less hopeful that Council would eventually come to see that protection of the beach by keeping vehicles off it was the best decision to make not only from environmental and intergeneration perspectives but from an economic/tourism perspective.
‘Richmond Valley Council has only one ranger who does a good job but there is only one of him for a 3,000km² local government area,’ said Dr Gates.
‘This makes compliance a big issue given what we know from the House of Reps report that some folks only oblige the law when they are being watched! With the beach closed the compliance issue becomes less pressing.But why does Council have only one compliance officer?’