Sparks fly over Daintree bridge debate


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Talk of a second ferry or the building of a bridge over the Daintree River has been reignited. IMAGE: Supplied.
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Business owners up in arms over Daintree ferry shutdown

FEDERAL MP Warren Entsch’s decision to reignite the debate to consider building a bridge over the Daintree River has been both welcomed by Daintree business owners and vehemently challenged, in particular, by Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu.

And the member for Leichhardt could not have spurred the conversation at a more contentious time as the Daintree ferry is about to be shut down for maintenance for five days.

“His comments are a clear attempt to ride on the back of the publicity of the Daintree Ferry temporary closure," Mayor Leu told Newsport.

“There is no rhyme or reason to his suggestions apart from grabbing a headline."

But Mr Entsch wants to garner community support and is planning a March 20 meeting at a venue which has yet to be confirmed, while Cr Leu has been quoted as saying a "bridge over the Daintree would mean the monumental cutting down of the World Heritage-listed rainforest."

“My reason for the March 20 meeting is to listen to what the affected community think. We need to have a mature conversation and look at the options,” said Mr Entsch.

“We should not be worried about cost at this stage. We need to decide what is best for those who live and work north of the river – is it a bridge, or a second ferry."

Mayor Leu said a vast majority of residents do not support a bridge because they are keen to preserve the idyllic Daintree Rainforest lifestyle and tourism experience.

“The World Heritage-listing of the Wet Tropics area in the 1980s was a momentous occasion and suggestions that a bridge should be built are a clear attempt to undo that pivotal moment for the region," she said.

“Building a bridge across the Daintree River would pave the way for the monumental destruction of World Heritage-listed rainforest.

“It would absolutely destroy the scenic beauty and wilderness value of the unique Wet Tropics region."

Mr Entsch said Cr Leu’s statements are not for local consumption.

“She is inciting the activists across the country to take a stand, as they did back in 1983 when there was considerable pressure to prevent the building of the road link between Cape Tribulation and Bloomfield,” he said.

This famously became known as the Daintree blockade.

Mr Entsch said if a bridge was considered, it could be one-way and operated by traffic lights.

“We are not talking about a second Sydney Harbour Bridge,” he said.

Cr Leu also believes that the Leichhardt MP has not looked at the pros and cons of constructing a bridge.

“I don’t believe the comments are reasonable. The community’s adverse reaction to the idea of building a bridge across the Daintree River is a good gauge of how out-of-touch the suggestion is,” she said.

Mr Entsch said the closing of the ferry for five days is really what is devastating.

“If there was a second ferry, people like Betty Hinton who survives by selling ice cream would not be impacted," he continued.

“What if her freezer breaks down; she will lose all her product. This is not fair for someone who is a ratepayer, just like the other businesses in the Daintree. This is clearly not acceptable and Council made the decision to close the ferry without consultation with the community. It is simply untenable.”

SOME Daintree business owners, meanwhile, see the value of a second ferry or bridge, but fear the opportunity has been lost.

Vicki Bidwell, owner of the Heritage Lodge and Spa said: “I think everybody would welcome a bridge. It would be very expensive, but it would solve some problems.”

On talks of better access to the Daintree, David Mainwaring, from Daintree Ice Cream Company, believes it could be a great idea. 

“The ferry has always been a means of regulating the amount of traffic going into the forest. Council are actively promoting self-drive tourism, but they are not actually following it up with the infrastructure," he said.

Rob Lapaer from Rainforest Hideaway, says Council wants to ‘limit the traffic up here’.

“The ferry is a traffic limiter and it says so in their own reports,” he said.

“In 2004 they paid for a study which said we needed another ferry, so they have created this disaster by not acting on that second ferry. Everyone is losing money. We have been totally forgotten again.”

And Ernie Dillon, from Cape Tribulation Wilderness Tours, said: “Everyone just wants another ferry. Unfortunately council just couldn’t give a rats.

"The problem is when it’s busy we lose a lot of money up here because not enough people can get access to us. Without a second ferry we are limited.”

Daintree Ferry to be pulled from the water



But Cr Leu is standing firm and believes the Daintree is in grave danger if a bridge, for example, was constructed.

“Increased traffic would lead to substantial road works at northern and southern approaches, drastic cutting over the range and threaten native wildlife, such as cassowaries," she said.

“The Daintree River can be subject to extensive flooding and roaring torrents.

“A bridge would need to be able to withstand fast-flowing debris that is strewn downstream during natural disasters and provide a safe thoroughfare for boats."

Mayor Leu said the authentic tourism experience in Australia’s oldest coastal rainforest, which is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, is what drives people from across the globe to Douglas Shire.

“The road and the Daintree Ferry are a critical part of that tourism experience," she continued.

“Building a bridge is a quantum leap - not a minor incremental change - for what benefit and at what cost?

“The Daintree region is at risk of being loved to death and by building a bridge we are digging a grave for this pristine natural wonder." 

The Daintree Ferry will close tomorrow to undergo maintenance works. It is scheduled to resume services on March 5.

Business owners upset over ferry shutdown
Daintree ferry to be pulled from the water

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