Compromise unlikely to calm waters in Hopkins River’s great divide

A COMPROMISE decision by Warrnambool City Council this week to resolve a long-running controversy over rules for waterskiers and powerboats on the Hopkins River estuary is unlikely to calm the troubled waters.

Other user groups are expected  to protest and the state’s maritime safety regulator is likely to  call for a further review of the issue which has been bubbling for about five years.

Monday night’s unanimous vote by councillors was to allow one ski-boat at a time from 8.30am before a general starting time of 9.30am running through until sunset.

The council abandoned its decision made in July last year to ignore Transport Safety Victoria’s recommended 9.30am time and push for an 8am start, which triggered 31 submissions opposing the move and four protest petitions with 120 signatures.

There were eight submissions favouring the 8am start.

Transport Safety Victoria (TSV), which had instructed the council last year to again seek community comments, will have the final say.

The issue erupted after the state body completed an audit in 2009 which found previous long-standing river rules and zones were illegal.

Yesterday TSV told The Standard the council would have to prepare and submit another formal request to change river rules and demonstrate how it had assessed public submissions. 

Warrnambool Water Ski Club welcomed this week’s compromise decision which gives members access to still waters on a section of the river for training. But anglers, rowers, dragon boat enthusiasts and other users are unhappy.

“Waterskiers have access to only a very small part of the river and for only a few months,” ski club president Peter Molan said.

Warrnambool and District Angling Club president Rob O’Neill said a section of the river would be off limits to other boat users between 8.30am and 8.30pm while power boats were operating.

“The river is there for everybody, not just skiers,” he said.

City of Warrnambool Rowing Club president Brendan Finnigan said members were perplexed by the decision and would have accepted 9.30am for skiers.

Mr Finnigan said the Warrnambool Rowing Club would write to the marine safety division of Transport Safety Victoria to ask for Warrnambool City Council to be removed from the decision-making process.

He urged anyone else who was aggrieved by the council’s decision to write to the marine safety division and make a similar request.

South C Dragons president Ann Krause said club members, mostly breast cancer survivors, enjoyed training before 9.30am, but safety would be jeopardised by early-morning skiers.

Cr Peter Sycopoulis said the council was placed in a difficult position because user groups were unable to reach a  compromise.

“The reality is skiers have nowhere else to operate in Warrnambool,” he said.

“Anglers can fish anywhere and rowers can go upstream or to the Merri.”

Cr Brian Kelson suggested Deakin University be asked to consider establishing a rowing club which would allow rowers to train and compete away from the ski zone.

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