Bunbury City Council has bowed to weeks of intense public pressure to reconsider raising the height of the Koombana Bay footbridge.
In front of another full gallery of boaters on Tuesday night, the council voted against a recommendation to stick by its original decision and instead opted for design drawings and costings for a higher bridge to be prepared.
Following months of “very effective” lobbying from the city’s boating fraternity, the debate flared again this week when the council listened to three deputations before nearly all councillors weighed in on the issue.
The boating community’s demands appear to have been heard with the council to consider raising the bridge by either 600mm or 1400mm subject to the preparation of drawings and a price and timeline from contractor Ertech.
The council also directed acting chief executive officer Mal Osborne to prepare a report detailing those costings, time-frames and potential funding sources by September 22.
The cost of preparing design drawings will be taken from the project’s budget contingency.
Mayor Gary Brennan described the boaters’ campaign as “very effective” and despite previously claiming the council’s original decision could not be rescinded, voted in favour of the review.
“I want to know precisely what the cost will be...I want to know what the design is...” Mr Brennan said.
Previous estimates from design consultants Cardno, quoted the work to raise the bridge to the same height as the traffic bridge at $528,000 while raising it 600mm would cost $379,500.
But during a meeting between city staff, boaters and the council on Monday night, it was revealed the costs could be 50 per cent either side of those quotes.
Ertech also advised it could cost $30,000 per week of delay in the project with the bridge expected to be completed by October 23 before Tuesday’s decision.
Councillors debated between not having the money to make changes so late in the project and making a more permanent decision to raise the bridge rather than waiting another month.
Cr James Hayward described the matter as a “missed opportunity” and said while he supported the bridge being lifted “we simply don’t have the funds”.
“It is a frustration and I share that frustration,” Mr Hayward said.
“I think that it should have been lifted but I think to try to fix that problem at this point in the negotiation with the contract that we have in place would be unwise.”
Cr Murray Cook suggested an alternative motion to increase the bridge by 600mm with a 10 per cent financial contribution from the boating fraternity, but the concept failed to get up.
Cr Wendy Giles argued that the safety of a “few vessels” should not be put above the safety of other ratepayers with no extra money allocated for other issues such as footpaths across the city.
“I have had representations from other groups and other individuals who are Bunbury ratepayers who do not see that they should be paying for a small group of people,” Cr Giles said.
“I know that sounds harsh, but in their eyes that is what it is – that other ratepayers in Bunbury will have to pay for this.
“The majority that I have spoken to do not want their ratepayers’ money spent on raising the bridge.”
But Cr Michelle Steck responded that the council spent money on all areas of the city, that some people did not use and the argument was not “fitting”.
“Sporting facilities, not everyone uses those, arts and culture, not everyone goes to the art gallery and the skate park, I don’t go there,” Cr Steck said.
“So the valid argument to say this is just for a small group of people, is not fitting for the entirety of the business of council.”
Cr Karen Steele argued that a decision needed to be made on Tuesday night rather than waiting until next month.
“This gives the option to come back in a months’ time and us to say no again about raising the bridge, I want this decision made tonight,” Cr Steele said.
Deputy Mayor Brendan Kelly made a strong push for the council to stick to its original decision, saying the interest of all the different stakeholders had to be balanced.
Cr Kelly also suggested there was a conflict of interest between passive users of the inlet and people who wanted to turn it into a marina, which received laughter from the gallery.
Prominent Bunbury businessman Colin Piacentini told the council that with tourism a focus for the city, the inlet should be open to everybody.
“I believe we have an icon inlet there which is the jewel in the crown and we should be raising the bridge to allow more tourist boats to come in,” he said.
“I think we should be opening this playground up to everybody and make it available to everyone.”
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