THE Premier, Ted Baillieu, has approved $8.8 million in funding for urgent works to flood-damaged Wilsons Promontory National Park to enable the popular park to be reopened for the traditional influx of visitors at Easter.
Mr Baillieu announced the funding last Thursday, when he flew into Tidal River and met community representatives, tourism operators and Parks Victoria management.
Helicopter flights have been the only means of accessing the southern section of the Prom for the last two weeks. On March 22-23 the Tidal River area (but not the lighthouse) received 370mm of rain in 24 hours, causing extensive damage, including numerous landslips. The main road in was cut at the Darby River bridge.
The government funding includes $6 million for VicRoads to repair roads and work is already well under way. The government has allocated a further $2.8 million for Parks Victoria to undertake repair work to restore facilities and infrastructure in the park.
The Deputy Premier, Peter Ryan, who is also the member for Gippsland South, toured the Prom days after the inundation and pledged government support. He said the priority would be to repair the Darby River bridge and the land slip on Tidal River Road to allow traffic back into the park.
“The accommodation facilities at Tidal River also received extensive water damage, with over a foot of water inundating many of the lodgings as well as a number of private vehicles and caravans,” he said.
Mr Ryan praised the work of Parks Victoria staff and the various contributing agencies in managing the crisis.
“Parks Victoria and those contributing agencies did a magnificent job in keeping people safe and enabled the evacuation of 385 people at the height of the flood event,” he said.
Wilsons Promontory is a major drawcard for tourists, and the closure of the park has had a major impact on local businesses, but tourism operators have been doing their best to publicise the many other attractions in the district.
Kate Fooke, proprietor of the booking agency Promaccom, which manages about 50 properties across the Prom district, said the phone has been running hot since the closure of the Prom, with people desperate to find out what is happening. She said she has been encouraging people to come to the district anyway and see the many other splendid places available in South Gippsland or perhaps consider postponing their visit and come back when the national park is fully open to the public.
“It seems like most people are coming anyway, or at least postponing their holidays rather than cancelling. Of those who have cancelled, it is generally visitors from overseas – or people with friends from overseas – because the Prom was the main point of their trip,” said Ms Fooke. “Many people who already have bookings are contacting our office to enquire about the Prom and many are commenting on the irony of having floods now when it was fire two years ago! Many have expressed concern for the district and promised to return.”
The emergency flood situation stranded a number of vehicles at the park. However, owners have been advised that they can retrieve their vehicles today (Wednesday) and tomorrow from 10am. A temporary one-lane access is being created across the damaged Darby River bridge. Insurers are invited to the Prom tomorrow (Thursday) to bring out those cars that have been damaged as a result of the flood and cannot be driven.
“During the vehicle retrieval process, we strongly recommend that visitors bring identification and their car keys to ensure a speedy evacuation,” said the chief ranger at Wilsons Promontory, Craig Stubbings.
A staging area, with refreshments, is being set up for vehicle owners at the Yanakie hall. Only one person per vehicle is being allowed access to Tidal River.
Owners of vehicles over 10 tonne, such as buses, coaches, caravans and any other remaining vehicles, will be able to retrieve their vehicles on April 19. Affected visitors can call 13 1963 between 9am and 5pm on any day to confirm details.
NORTHERN SECTION OPEN
Although the section of the park south of Darby River, including Tidal River, remains closed to visitors, Parks Victoria opened the northern section of the Prom on Monday. Visitors are encouraged to explore areas such as Hourigans Camp Lane, the Big Drift, Cotters Lake track, the wildlife viewing area, Millers Landing and Vereker Range. Visitors are, however, advised that some maintenance works are still taking place in this area as part of the overall flood recovery efforts.
Parks Victoria is finalising plans to enable limited camping within the northern section of the park for the Easter period. There will be no camping before the Easter weekend anywhere in the park. All access beyond Tidal River including outstations is also closed and will be until after Easter. All roofed accommodation and outstation bookings up to and including April 30 are cancelled.
Extensive clean-up and repair works are currently being undertaken at the Tidal River campsite area so that there can be some camping there over Easter. Visitors who had a ballot booking for camping at Tidal River will be contacted. New bookings for all areas are temporarily on hold, with the main focus on assessing damage to the park. Parks Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory webpage will be updated when bookings resume.
PLANNED BURN IN CLOSED PARK
The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) took the opportunity whilst the park was closed to carry out a planned burn at the park last Friday. Fire District Manager for DSE, Geoff Pike, said holding a burn in the park whilst it was closed was obviously better for safety reasons and would reduce the impact on visitors.
The burn was planned for ecological reasons – to help control invading Coastal Tea Tree and provide better conditions for the growth of coastal grassy woodlands – in the area between Little Drift Track and Springs Track in the north of the Prom.
Unfortunately weather conditions were not as favourable as forecast – it was too humid and there was insufficient wind – so the burn could be only partially completed.
“We secured the Springs Track and Little Drift Track edges and tested the aerial drip torch technology – this was the first time it had been used in the park,” said Mr Pike.
Chief Ranger Fire and Emergency Management for Parks Victoria East Region, Dennis Matthews, said that flood recovery remained the priority for Parks staff and only DSE staff, including project firefighters, were used to conduct the burn at the Prom.