Roads and Maritime Services has chosen not to implement the key recommendation defined in a report prepared by the University of NSW’s Water Research Laboratory (WRL) – to manage erosion along the banks of the Clarence River upstream of Grafton between Rogan Bridge and Moleville Rocks and from the Moleville Rocks to Susan Island, according to residents in the area.
Parts of the area were severely eroded during the floods of 2013, leaving the riverbank vulnerable to further boat wake erosion.
Clarence Valley Council formed and coordinated the Clarence Valley Riverbank Vulnerability Assessment Working Group (CV RVAWG) and, as a result, commissioned the WRL study.
The study’s primary recommendation called for the “enforcing [of] ‘No Wash’ zones’” between Rogan Bridge and Moleville Rocks and “buoy deployment at the mid-river width from the shore” between Moleville Rocks and Susan Island.
However, the Clarence River Erosion Management Plan does not implement ‘No Wash’ zones; instead it states that the “new no slow-tow zone between Rogans Bridge and Moleville Rocks” is identified “as highly eroded and too narrow to focus wake-generating activities into the middle of the river to effectively limit erosion.
“The no slow tow restriction is a two year temporary restriction while riverbank remediation is undertaken and its effectiveness will be subject to review.”
The management plan, which covers a 35 kilometre stretch of the river from Rogan Bridge to Ulmarra, was released in August 2015, following further community consultation by the Maritime Management Centre (in conjunction with the RMS).
Boating restrictions, which are in force from September 1, 2015 to September 1, 2017, are also outlined in a brochure titled ‘Clarence River Erosion Management Plan – New Boating Restrictions’.
One resident, Brian Gane, thought his and other like-minded residents’ concerns had been addressed when ‘No Wash’ signs, which concurred with the WRL report’s recommendation, were installed at the Old Punt Road and Lane boat ramps in Seelands.
However, the signs were soon replaced to reflect current buoy and riverbank signs, which state ‘Towing of Persons Prohibited – Water & Barefoot Skiing Excepted’.
Mr Gane related his experience, which began when he was volunteering as a safety boat operator for the Bridge to Bridge races on Saturday and Sunday October 3 and 4.
“RMS had two [patrol boats] and two jet skis patrolling the Clarence River,” Mr Gane said. “I was pulled up three times by RMS patrols to check my torch battery and last service date on my life jacket; while a flotilla of Queensland-registered wake boats were careering unchecked in other reaches of the river.”
As a result of Mr Gane’s perception that the RMS was not enforcing the new regulations, he emailed an enquiry to the RMS, “to request clarification on the new riverbank signs and other issues”.
He was later contacted by an RMS officer, whom Mr Gane said, told him that “‘those no-wash signs at the Old Punt Road and Lane boat ramps were mistakenly placed there by the contractor who was putting up the other riverbank signs … we’ll have to take them away; they were intended to be placed further downstream’”.
Outraged, Mr Gane reacted to this news by writing to Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, the Maritime Management Centre, the Premier and the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Duncan Gay. He had not received any responses as the Independent went to press.
The Independent was also contacted by John Griffith, a member of the former CV RVAWG, who wrote in an email: “RMS have informed me that the WRL recommended buoyage system …, in the reaches of the river identified as susceptible to wash erosion, Moleville Rocks to Susan Island, has been removed from the plan and the buoys will not be laid.”
Meanwhile, at the July Clarence Valley Council meeting, Cr Karen Toms called for the WRL report to be tabled at the next Clarence Valley Council Coast and Estuary Committee for “information” and consideration.
This meeting is yet to be held.
Councillor Toms wrote in her notice of motion (NOM) that “WRL has provided the report to CVC but the report has yet to be considered by Councillors or an appropriate Council committee”.
“I’ve been informed by a member of the group the report cannot be considered further by RVAWG as the group has been dissolved,” she wrote.
“This study has been released publicly by NSW Maritime Management Centre but not reported to Council or its Coast and Estuary Committee.”
Councillors backed Cr Toms’ NOM unanimously.
The RMS and Chris Gulaptis were unavailable for comment before the paper’s editorial deadline.