Time to put the river first

Augusta Margaret River Times - - News - Warren Hately

Con­ser­va­tion­ists who ral­lied against the Shire of Au­gusta-Margaret River’s win­ter di­ver­sion project are likely to be vin­di­cated at a spe­cial coun­cil meet­ing next week.

Work­ing group chair­man Stu­art Hicks, who also sits on the board of Na­ture Con­ser­va­tion Margaret River, said his re­port ask­ing coun­cil­lors to adopt 16 rec­om­men­da­tions was a “sig­nif­i­cant break­through” and he saluted all par­ties in­volved.

“They’ve worked re­ally hard to find a res­o­lu­tion be­tween them­selves,” Mr Hicks told the Times.

“The groups are also say­ing it’s time for the coun­cil to make a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the river.”

A loose al­liance of con­ser­va­tion­ists and the Margaret River Re­gional En­vi­ron­ment Cen­tre op­posed the Cape-to-Cape Track di­ver­sion be­cause of fears about dam­age to the river en­vi­ron­ment.

In a story drag­ging on for al­most two years, ac­tivists ex­posed Shire fail­ings on Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage con­sul­ta­tion, while the Friends of the Cape-to-Cape Track tried to save fund­ing to help fin­ish the project.

In early April, the coun­cil com­pro­mised with a bid to buy a sec­tion of land once owned by Abo­rig­i­nal icon Sam Isaacs, but un­der the new pro­posal, a sep­a­rate piece of river­front land would be bought by the Shire to di­vert walk­ers away from a sen­si­tive melaleuca wet­land at the cen­tre of a pre­vi­ously con­tentious board­walk pro­posal. Wadandi Abo­rig­i­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tives did not take part in the work­ing group dis­cus­sions.

Mr Hicks said the main break­through in the ne­go­ti­a­tions — con­vened af­ter April’s coun­cil de­ci­sion — was to em­pha­sise the pri­or­ity of the Margaret River.

Adopt­ing the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions would fur­ther re­quire Shire or ex­ter­nal fund­ing for greater preser­va­tion ef­forts, in line with a pro­tec­tion strat­egy now in the works (see Page 1).

“The river is a po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant uni­fy­ing force for this re­gion,” Mr Hicks said.

“The town’s called Margaret River. Ev­ery­one’s proud of that.”

MRREC spokes­woman and work­ing group mem­ber Peta Good­win said the pro­posal was “an his­toric shift in fo­cus”.

“The cen­tral­ity of the river in our feel­ing of com­mu­nity, in our sense of place, and in re­flect­ing and main­tain­ing the health of our en­vi­ron­ment and our com­mu­nity has been solidly stated in the re­port,” she said.

Cam­paigner Ray Swarts — who, with Ms Good­win, is part of the “rights of the river” move­ment — said the re­port showed the April coun­cil de­ci­sion “was the wrong one”. “I believe a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal out­come in real terms can come out of the coun­cil de­ci­sion to com­plete the track,” he said.

NCMR chair­man Boyd Wykes en­dorsed the re­port he said could be “a turning point” for the river.

“With ap­pro­pri­ate plan­ning and man­age­ment led by the Shire, but in­volv­ing all of the com­mu­nity, we can pre­vent the ‘death by a thou­sand cuts’ that has demon­stra­bly been di­min­ish­ing the Margaret River’s char­ac­ter,” he said.

Mr Hicks said pop­u­la­tion and tourism pres­sure was “de­nud­ing” the river’s banks and Times re­ports of the river in “se­ri­ous de­cline” un­der­lined the im­por­tance of ac­tion.

The Friends did not re­spond to in­quiries be­fore dead­line.

Pic­ture: De­clan Bush

Ray Swarts, flanked by Bill Webb and Neroli Carl­ton, out­lines the ar­gu­ment against the win­ter di­ver­sion last year.

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