COMMUNITY support and more users may help to save the Port Franklin slipway from closure and decommissioning, a fate first mooted by Gippsland Ports in 2017 and originally scheduled to occur by June 30, 2019.
While its future is still not absolutely certain the slipway has now been given a stay of execution, indeed even grounds for appeal, because of the level of interest shown during consultation with local residents, community groups, jetty-licensees and boat-owners.
Gippsland Ports, together with representatives from the Victorian Government Departments of Transport and of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), held future directions drop-in and roundtable sessions in the Port Franklin Hall on Wednesday May 15, 2019.
During the afternoon, all stakeholders were invited to speak informally and individually to the Gippsland Ports, Transport and DELWP people, with a group discussion about slipway issues and options held for all interested parties that evening.
Gippsland Ports consultant Martin Richardson led the sessions, alongside Gippsland Ports CEO Chris Waites and infrastructure and operations executive manager Greg Hatt, DELWP Gippsland regional manager land and built environment Carole MacMillan, and Transport Ports and Freight senior project officer Marcus Higgins.
South Gippsland ShireCouncil’s Coastal Promontory Ward Cr Ray Argento was at the evening session,and advised that, “the council’s position is that it would like to see the slipway as a viable asset for the community.”
At the evening roundtable, Mr Richardson said some 17 people had called in to the hall that afternoon to share their views on the slipway, including members of the Port Franklin Public Purposes and Recreation Reserve Committee of Management.
Known as the “CoM”, this is the body that operates the slipway under an agreement with Gippsland Ports, which owns the slipway itself, along with thousands of other maritime infrastructure assets throughout the region.
In addition, the CoM oversees the 80 or so private jetties along the banks of the Franklin River, receiving the annual $450.00 licence fees from each of the jetty-holders, and looks after the public reserves throughout the township, too.
DELWP also has a managerial interest in the slipway as it is located on Crown land. The evening meeting was advised that privatisation of the slipway was “out of the question” as “the sale of Crown land is impossible.”
Also attending during the afternoon were Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien, jetty-holders, past, present and potential future slipway users, members of the newly formed Port Franklin Progress Association, the owners of boats moored along the river and townsfolk.
Mr Richardson said he and his colleagues had, “heard many people say today why the slipway should stay open.
“We have learned a lot and the [Gippsland Ports] Board will be impressed to hear what the community believes can be done to improve the slipway’s future viability.
“The Board agreed that full consultation with slipway stakeholders was needed and it will review the current position at its next meeting in late June 2019,” he said.
“I think it would be safe to say that the slipway will not be closing on June 30 for now!”
Some of the issues raised during the consultation included Gippsland Ports’ concern that the number of boats using the slipway had declined from an annual average of between 25 to 30 down to 13 slippings in the past year, which generated about $3000.00 in fees.
The slipway’s basic periodic maintenance and machinery compliance cost about $6500.00 a year.
Slipway supporters countered this argument by saying that the facility’s capacity had been downgraded from 12 tonnes to four tonnes, thereby limiting the boats that could actually use it.
The Port Welshpool slipway was put forward as a superior alternative to Port Franklin, however local boat owners claimed that its much higher fees were an issue, as was timetabling, distance and a greater difficulty of access for vessels that were not able to be easily placed on a trailer.
Motorboats may travel to Port Welshpool by following the coast during high tide, however wind-powered boats must sail some 29 kilometres along the Franklin and Lewis Channels to reach the same place, with kindly winds and tides.
Gippsland Ports CEO Mr Waites said bringing the capacity of the slipway back up would be looked at, agreeing that more vessels using the facility would generate more fees to offset its costs.
“We don’t get recurrent funding for works from the Government, and while the slipway doesn’t have to make a profit, we all would like to see it helping to pay its own way,” he said.
“We have had good discussions with the CoM and with the Progress Association and can’t see an issue with the CoM running the slipway, with the right skills set.”
A broad range of skills suitable for a group charged with running a slipway was identified, including maritime experience, engineering, financial management and local knowledge.
Nominations for membership of the CoM will be called for by expressions of interest in August 2019, with the election to be held near the end of the year.
Mr Richardson said the Gippsland Ports Board, “wants to find a way to keep the slipway that works for the CoM and for boat owners.
“We’ve now got a better understanding and we’ve been given a lot of stuff about the slipway that we didn’t know before from the people who know it best.
‘When we have finished receiving the feedback following today’s sessions we will be putting a range of options including all of the pros and cons before the Board,” he said.
“We understand that the community wants to keep the slipway, but if there is no financially viable option, it may still have to close.
“However we believe that we may have seen a way that has legs, or should I say keels!” Mr Richardson said.
“It’s not as if there is a lack of people who could run a slipway here in Port Franklin.”
More opinions on the future of the Port Franklin slipway are invited by the end of May 2019, and will be considered by the Gippsland Ports Board at its June 27 2019 meeting.
Email to [email protected] or write to Gippsland Ports PO Box 388 Bairnsdale VIC 3875.