Boaties warn of ‘chaos’

Warren HatelyThe West Australian

Boaties in the Margaret River region face major upheaval if planned restrictions at the Canal Rocks boat ramp go ahead, critics have warned.

A State Government move to close public access to Canal Rocks and restrict emergency operations because of safety concerns has backfired, with marine rescue groups speaking out against the plan.

This week, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said the Naturaliste Volunteer Marine Rescue would still be able to use its preferred launch site in emergencies, but the City of Busselton and marine rescue groups have rejected changes at the site because it would add greatly to response times.

The new proposal stems from a report into safety concerns sparked by injuries at the launch site in 2015 which found it did not meet Australian standards.

Critics have said the comparison of safety standards was questionable, backed by Vasse MLA Libby Mettam.

And user groups said any change would affect emergency rescues off Margaret River’s coast because of treacherous conditions, and would be “catastrophic for all boaties in the Capes region,” Margaret River Volunteer Marine Rescue’s Wayne Baddock said.

“At a recent meeting a marine rescue group (was) asked to support a partial and/or full closure of this ramp, which they refused to do,” Mr Baddock said.

“None of the Capes’ boat ramps meets this standard, which incidentally was published well before they were built.

“Whatever the reasons, it does not make sense to close this ramp when the number of boaties living and visiting this area is constantly on the rise,” Mr Baddock said.

“If Canal Rocks gets the chop, then Hamelin Bay may well be next and for all boaties in the Margaret River and Gracetown region, be prepared for what this will mean at your local ramp — chaos.”

Before a rally at the weekend, Mrs Mettam told the Times the closure would “greatly overload other existing boat ramps and it is imperative … this is prevented”.

The DBCA move also raised questions about the standards at the Gnarabup, Gracetown and Hamelin Bay ramps, with Shire of Augusta-Margaret River infrastructure services director Markus Botte saying 2011’s Capes Region Boating Strategy concluded existing ramps were serviceable in good weather, provided they were “reasonably maintained”.

Mr Botte said a post-construction audit of upgrades to local ramps had not been carried out.

“Nor have these facilities been assessed for their suitability to aid in replacing the Canal Rocks site,” he said. “Notwithstanding, the closure is not expected to affect sea rescue response within the shire as rescue operations will take priority over recreational users at existing ramps.”

Mrs Mettam said if the standards based on marinas were applied, none of the boat ramps in the Margaret River shire would be approved. A DBCA spokeswoman said all marine rescue groups would retain access to Canal Rocks, but with “gated or otherwise restricted access”.

But Naturaliste Volunteer Marine Rescue vice-commander Paul Bresland rejected the DBCA claim no change to emergency operations would be required.

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