Daintree Bridge debate ignited: Council votes to explore options

COUNCIL MEETING

Karlie Brady

Journalist

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Mayor Michael Kerr raised the motion to temporarily suspend the ferry contract negotiations during the Mayor Minutes at today's Council meeting.
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The debate about a bridge crossing over the Daintree River has again been ignited as Douglas Shire Council resolved at today’s meeting to temporarily suspend the two-ferry solution contract negotiations and explore other options through public consultations.

Council will now explore the option of a bridge crossing at various locations along the river, as well as identify possible economic benefits to the region.

The public consultation will seek feedback on a bridge option alongside details of costs of the proposed two-ferry solution.

Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr said that in order to be transparent, the community needs to have an informed say on all options.

“I reiterate and stress that this is not a push to build a bridge, rather, this whole thing is about transparency and laying all available options out there,” Mayor Kerr told Newsport.

“There are a lot of people out there that think the bridge option is the best, so if I don't include all options then I’m not being transparent.

“You need to put the good, the bad, and the ugly out there and it's really important that we show everything to everyone and let them make an informed decision.”


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Mr Kerr said he didn’t prefer one option over the other but said that previous public consultations held before the decision to go ahead with the second ferry were not adequate.

“We did a very in-depth consultation when it came to the people who live on the other side of the river and the tour groups that use it, but there was never any consultation as far as who was going to pay for it and that's the part I was disappointed about at the time.

“Given the potential operational cost of the two-ferry solution and impact on residents, businesses and or tourists, it is important that the community has more detail on how these extra costs would be funded before a contract is signed.”

In December last year, Council resolved to allow the Chief Executive Officer to finalise contractual negotiations with local company, Sirron Enterprises Pty Ltd.

A GHD traffic report, which analysed congestion and assessed future conditions, found a bridge was the least expensive option and most effective at dealing with queues at peak periods, followed by the two-ferry solution.

A detailed costs analysis between the two options was not completed at the time.

“The bridge option was not considered because there was a view it would not provide the best tourist experience, and environmental concerns were also noted.

“While specific costs of running two ferries could not be known before the tender process, it was noted that it would be significantly more expensive than the current operation,” Mayor Kerr said.

The topic led to hearty debate amongst the councillors in the meeting before the motion was passed three votes to two, with Councillors Abigail Noli and Roy Zammataro opposed.

During the meeting, Cr Noli said the bridge was not needed or wanted.

“It has been said that a bridge will be the least expensive long term option; well this is simply an opinion. I don’t know how much the bridge will cost, but nobody does, that’s the point, so how is it possible to make this statement,” she questioned.

Cr Zammataro added that the majority of people he had spoken to over the river had told him that they did not want the bridge option.

“One reason being excessive traffic will have a devastating effect on the wildlife,” he said.

“Living in this Shire we have to protect the oldest living rainforest on the planet.”

Mayor Kerr said everyone's entitled to their own opinions, that is democracy. However, at this stage, they are all assumptions and this process will allow Council to investigate further what the best option is for the environment, the economy, and tourism.

“At the end of the day if you have 250 people going across the river on a ferry you are still going to have 250 people going across the bridge to the Daintree.

“There is still going to be the same amount of people utilising the road and I have absolutely no intention to seal the Bloomfield track.

“There are many layers of protection on the rainforest and not one person in this office wants to destroy the Daintree,” he said.

Council will now further analyse the details before presenting the options to the community.

Council officers are currently looking at possible dates for community consultation and will investigate ways to facilitate it in the event that COVID-19 restrictions are active.

For more information about the Daintree Ferry Contract Renewal project.


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