Boating group express anger at bridge height decision

Kate FieldingSouth Western Times

A hostile crowd packed out Bunbury City Council chambers on Tuesday night hoping for an item addressing the raising of Koombana Bay’s footbridge to be added to the agenda.

However, the crowd were left disappointed when a motion put forward by Cr Michelle Steck to add the urgent matter to the council’s meeting agenda failed to get up.

The debate over raising the footbridge across The Plug has been heating up, with the city’s boating fraternity banding together in a bid to convince the council to overturn a decision not to raise it.

The council in July last year voted to retain the height of the footbridge.

As about 50 people crammed into the council chambers on Tuesday night, Cr Steck handed over “somewhere between 350 and 400 letters” in support of raising the bridge.

She told the council also among the submissions was a quote for the proposal and a letter from a real estate agent in relation to property values.

While the documents were accepted as a petition, Mayor Gary Brennan knocked back a motion for a late item to be added to the agenda in relation to the matter.

“I received a copy of that at 4.40 this afternoon, I don’t consider the matter urgent and I’m not accepting it,” Mr Brennan said.

Cr Sam Morris attempted to over-rule Mr Brennan but a seven to five vote not to accept the late item prevailed.

As a disgruntled crowd left the chambers, members of the boating fraternity expressed their irritation.

“We’ll see you at the next election, or we won’t see you at the next election ... we can play that game too,” one man yelled.

Another yelled “unreal”.

Speaking to the South Western Times yesterday Sports Marine owner Greg Collett said the boating community only wanted the bridge raised by 600mm and it was a “fairly cheap” exercise.

He said the group’s campaign was not about allowing bigger boats into the inlet, but rather for the safety of boat owners.

“In Bunbury we have three boat ramps, two in the inlet and the one in the Outer Harbour which is the worst of the three,” Mr Collett said.

“The ones in the inlet have the floating jetties – it’s very easy getting boats in and out, there’s very little change of damaging boats and its accessible for kids and elderly.

“The council spent all this money beautifying these ramps and we’re being told to use one that’s less practical and actually dangerous.”

Mr Brennan described Tuesday night’s incident as “totally inappropriate” and told the Times legislation ruled out the council’s decision being overturned.

“There’s two important things to remember here – one is the matter being deemed not urgent ... the standing orders are very clear, urgent business has to be urgent business,” Mr Brennan said.

“The other is the revision of the matter – legislation states that once a decision of council is enacted, it cannot be rescinded.

“That was not a happy exercise for them and it was a totally inappropriate move to do it that way.”

Mr Collett said the boating fraternity was not going away and would continue its campaign.

“The boating fraternity will hammer and hammer, if they don’t do it now, it could cost more in the future and it will happen,” he said.

A number of stakeholders – including industry and community members – were part of the Koombana Footbridge Working Party tasked with investigating options for the structure.

The Bunbury Yacht Club, Bunbury Rowing Club, Bunbury Sea Scouts and Bunbury Power Boat Club were all approached to provide comment on the matter.

The yacht club was the only group among those approached in support of raising the bridge, however the club’s submissions were not accepted as it failed to meet the council’s deadline.

Mr Collett said he believed the submission was at the “forefront” of consultation and it was simply left out.

Department of Water expressed concerns around the potential environmental effects, while the South West Development Commission deemed it inappropriate to comment.

The council voted nine to one in July last year to keep the height as it is.

Click here for the Times coverage on the decision last year.

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