The Mirror News

Dredging up good news

THE long-anticipated re-dredging of the access channel at the Toora boat ramp has moved closer to becoming a reality. South Gippsland Shire Council is allocating $300,000 and will seek state government funding for the balance of the $600,000 project.

Dredging of the channel, which last took place back in 1992 when the boat ramp, along with a floating pontoon and car park, was constructed, is part of the Corner Inlet Tourism Development Project, currently one of Council’s Priority Projects.

The Corner Inlet Tourism Development Project Economic Impact Study, completed in 2012, estimates an annual economic stimulus from increased visitor expenditure of $112,750 after the access channel is dredged.

Council will be applying for funding through the Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure (TDDI) Program. Funding of up to $750,000 is available on a 1:1 basis. Applications for the next round close September 9. Destination Gippsland has recently indicated its support for an application to the TDDI Program.

There is widespread support for the dredging, in particular from the township of Toora and tourism operators in the area, who recognise the importance of the boat ramp in attracting visitors to the district as well as a community asset.

Gippsland Water Police have indicated their support on the grounds that not having access to the ramp potentially hinders response times for incidents on Corner Inlet. Alternative access points, such as Port Welshpool, can cost valuable time in emergencies, such as heart attacks on the water, when speed is of the essence.

It was noted at the time of construction that the channel would need ongoing dredging, however that has proved easier said than done. In 2005 Council applied for a grant from Marine Safety Victoria to do the work and obtained $160,000 as it was regarded as a safety issue. Council committed $70,000 to the project. However, since construction of the ramp, the Corner Inlet Marine Coastal Park has been created and the channel is within the Corner Inlet Ramsar Wetland, an area of international significance. This requires significant environmental approvals for any dredging and, in particular, for dumping the dredged spoil. Escalating requirements have escalated costs and the project has consequently suffered numerous delays.

Following delays in obtaining the necessary environmental approvals, the Marine Safety Victoria funds were re-directed in May 2012 to the Port Welshpool public jetty upgrade, which was completed in August 2013.

Significantly, Council has also agreed to take responsibility for the dredging. In formal terms, this means agreeing to the execution by the shire’s chief executive officer, Tim Tamlin, of the Section 27 Consent under the National Parks Act. This allows the dredging to occur, but the legal advice is that it does not put any onus on Council to dredge at the direction of others. Council had been reluctant to accept responsibility for the ongoing cost of future dredging.

The total estimate for the project of $600,000 includes allowances for the construction of bunds and weirs on the property of the landowner who will take the dredging spoil, and their removal on completion of the works. It also includes allowance for cleaning drains to the sea-wall and an upgrade of the non-return culvert through the sea-wall. An additional allowance has been included for the remediation of the existing bird hide near the boat ramp and the construction of a rotunda, both of which would be subject to Parks Victoria approvals.

It is expected that the channel will require dredging again after ten years, but similar financial assistance could be sought from the government then.

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