Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) overruled the Clarence River Erosion Management Plan (CREMP) when it approved a round of the 2017/18 Australian Open and Junior wakeboard series, held on the Clarence River adjacent to the Crown Hotel and Memorial Park in Grafton over the Australia Day long weekend.
The event course was located within the ‘no slow tow’ zone (northern channel between Susan Island and Grafton), as outlined in the CREMP, which was implemented in September 2015 and “prohibits Wakeboarding, Wakesurfing, Aquaplaning, [and] Use of additional ballast”, because the “banks of the northern channel are subject to substantial erosion”.
The RMS responded to questions from the Independent through its media unit.
A ‘spokesperson’ wrote that the RMS approved the event “after careful consideration” and that “event organisers were granted an exemption to marine safety legislation as part of the aquatic licence, which enabled the event to take place”.
“Event organisers were required to provide mitigation measures to address management actions outlined in the CREMP,” the spokesperson wrote.
“These mitigation measures included ensuring wakeboarding vessels navigated a prescribed distance from the shore and restricting activity to one vessel and one skier on the course.”
Several Grafton residents, who contacted the Independent, have written to the RMS to express their ire, and have questioned why the event was not held at a more suitable location, nominating Corcoran Park, where these events have been held in the past, and South Grafton ramps and foreshore.
“This particular wakeboarding event has been held on the Clarence River for a number of years and was previously held near Seelands Ski Park,” the RMS spokesperson wrote.
“The proposal to move the event to a new location was based on community involvement and better facilities for competitors and spectators.”
The spokesperson also quoted from the CREMP’s ‘management actions’ notes, stating: “As aquatic events are held infrequently and with additional mitigation measures imposed, they are not considered to have a substantial or ongoing impact on riverbank health.”
However, the preceding paragraph under the ‘Aquatic Events’ subsection specifically refers to the annual bridge to bridge race, stating: “The restrictions [outlined in the CREMP] … in no way affect the conduct of aquatic events such as the annual Grafton Bridge 2 Bridge race.”
The RMS spokesperson wrote that in the future RMS will consult with “key stakeholders including Clarence Valley Council [and] … continue to review all future aquatic licence applications and consider community feedback”.
Clarence Valley Council confirmed it had approved access to the foreshore area, which was the extent of its involvement in the event.
At the November council meeting, councillors voted 7-1 against a staff recommendation to provide the event with an $8,000 sponsorship – Cr Jason Kingsley voted in favour.
The CREMP, which was implemented as a two-year trial from September 2015, was reviewed in September 2017, the RMS spokesperson said, “with a change made to extend the trial”.
“An update was provided to the community [at a meeting held at Seelands hall] in November last year.”
The RMS did not indicate whether or not the eight committee meetings and four public briefings were held, as outlined in the CREMP two-year trial, or nominate the date of the trial’s conclusion.