The Batemans Bay Bridge has been closed by the Minister for Transport for the last 48 hours because of the horrific fires raging along the northern shores of the Bay and the Clyde River. The Batemans Bay Boaters Association spokesperson, Harry Watson Smith told the Beagle "This decision, under what ever authority, is welcome in the circumstances.
Mr Watson Smith said "At this moment there is only one visiting yacht in Nelligen which may wish to travel eastwards through the bridge to exit the Bay within the next few weeks.In past years, especially over the busy holiday period, the opening of the bridge has been restricted to times between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am and given 24 hour prior notice. "This worked for visiting yachts and larger vessel who could plan their journey without disrupting the traffic flows wishing to cross the bridge. A practical solution for a short period but we now have continued emergency times requiring decisive action.
"The real question of an emergency vehicle wishing to urgently cross the bridge during a lift sequence is just not an issue as the operator can suspend the lift, stop a vessel in its tracks, lower the road and open the booms and the emergency vehicle can use the road to get across.
"The likelihood of the bridge getting stuck in the up position is very very small because many modifications have been made since the last incident when operator error caused it to jam and the support engineer could not get to the bridge due to the traffic jam; then having to walk more than 2 kilometres to reach the bridge – thus the delay.
The Boaters Assoc spokes person said "The Government has spent many dollars addressing the risks of failure. They have trained the operator on what to do and the backup resources are only a phone call away. The computer software has may checks and the other risks balanced and where possible eliminated.
"The major danger to the bridge’s lift operation is the cutting of power to the bridge, traffic signals, booms and computer systems without notice. Now this has happened more than once during the replacement bridge construction. The result is the bridge team has to be called and all systems have to be restarted and synchronised – not a simple task. In general, if electrical disruptions are planned, the generator is started and the whole operation works like a digital clockwork. Oh, for the old days of mechanical clocks and “as smooth as clockwork”!" Mr Watson Smith added.
"So what is the problem?" he asks.
"Two main issues. The first is the right of all vessel to have free passage to the waterways and particularly to the port of Nelligen. This is a balance between the State desire to close the waterway access and the Commonwealth's right to have free passage for vessel on our waterways – particularly the Murray River in the days of old when the wool clip had to get to the coast for shipment to Europe. "Now that right was written into the Australian Constitution (Sec 98) and remains to this day despite the NSW government spending taxpayers money to find a way round it before they block off the Clyde with a bridge height of only 12 meters.
"The second issue is the Innes Ferry and a very few others, wishing to demand their right to this free passage and have the bridge lifted twice a day so they can continue their lucrative business during the busy holiday period. These vessels have this right and the Boaters Association supports this right." said the spokes person.
"Now lets be reasonable during these difficult times. Is there a compromise which would satisfy the community, the commercial interest of the ferry and the visitors to the Bay both on land and on the water?"
"A simple solution is to relocate the starting point of the ferry to the west side of the bridge. To the west of Lions Park at the location of the current oyster growers jetty. There is adequate parking, the water is deep enough for the ferry and the river flow is very slight. The ferry would require some basic infrastructure to embark and disembark less mobile passengers like a floating pontoon and a person-friendly on-ramp. The ferry could refuel at their dedicated wharf at Nelligen."
"The internationally reputable marina builders Bellingham Marine have concrete pontoons and on-ramps sitting ready to move out of their factory in Brisbane. They shipped four truck loads to Bermagui on Monday this week for the new marine there."
"The current equipment on the three huge barges in the Bay at the moment is more than sufficient to drive four piles into the river bed and attach the floating pontoons. No water or electricity is required. So that has sorted the engineering problems."
Mr Watson Smith asks "So what is standing in the way of the Minister for Transport for NSW picking up the phone on Monday and just saying “do-it”. "Well for one it would be the Batemans Marine Park Authority giving approval to sink the piles into the river bed – not dissimilar to the two lone piles on the southern bank to secure the small barge. It would also require Crown Lands to approve, even on a temporary basis, the construction of this piece of infrastructure. Then there is the inevitable Director of Infrastructure Services at the Council who has on many occasion refused any discussion on placing pontoons at this location in Lions Park. Does he have the veto?"
The Batemans Bay Boaters Association have thrown down the gauntlet to the Member for Bega "OK, Minister, use your very persuasive powers and position to get this done and use the same authority that was used to close the bridge to build this temporary piece of infrastructure before the busy holiday period starts and social media lights up with abuse, vitriol and misinformation."