FIN-TASTIC OPEN­ING

The Nin­ga­loo Aquar­ium for­mally opened its doors last Fri­day and is an­other string in Ex­mouth’s tourism bow. The open­ing ends a his­tory of dif­fi­cul­ties that plagued the project for the past cou­ple of years.

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Shan­non Beattie

The mil­lion dol­lar Nin­ga­loo Aquar­ium ex­pected to boost tourism num­bers in the re­gion fi­nally opened last week, al­most 18 months be­hind sched­ule.

The aquar­ium is re­ferred to as the “jewel in the crown” of the $32 mil­lion Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre and its de­lay was due to per­ceived mis­man­age­ment of the project by the pre­vi­ous coun­cil.

Shire pres­i­dent Matthew Ni­ikkula said the new coun­cil de­cided it still wanted the aquar­ium to be re­alised to its full po­ten­tial.

“It’s a fan­tas­tic draw­card for tourists,we had 1750 peo­ple through in Au­gust alone and some of their exit state­ments were re­ally en­cour­ag­ing” he said.

“It takes about three hours to go through the whole Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre and aquar­ium, so it re­ally adds a rea­son for tourists to stay in Ex­mouth for a whole ex­tra day.”

The Nin­ga­loo com­plex had its for­mal open­ing in De­cem­ber last year but the aquar­ium was not in­cluded be­cause var­i­ous is­sues had plagued the project from its in­cep­tion.

The aquar­ium sat empty for months be­cause of con­cerns from Shire Com­mis­sioner Ian Fletcher that it was not safe to be filled with wa­ter, let alone to hold ma­rine life. The con­cerns were raised af­ter a Cor­rup­tion and Crime Com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to the sack­ing of Shire chief ex­ec­u­tive Bill Price and strate­gic projects of­fi­cer An­drew Forte.

It is al­leged they awarded a $1.1 mil­lion con­tract to build the cen­tre’s aquar­ium with­out proper au­tho­ri­sa­tion from the coun­cil or call­ing for ten­ders. Min­is­ter for Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Alan­nah MacTier­nan at­tended the of­fi­cial open­ing last Fri­day and said it had taken a while to re­solve the is­sues.

“There is no ques­tion that this was a trou­bled project -— when we came to govern­ment, ten­ants had pulled out from the fa­cil­ity and the aquar­ium was un­us­able,” she said.

“The new coun­cil took a very proac­tive ap­proach to the tech­ni­cal prob­lems with the aquar­ium and re­solved that is­sue.”

How­ever, Na­tion­als WA Mem­ber for North West Cen­tral Vince Cata­nia ar­gued there was never any­thing phys­i­cally wrong with the aquar­ium or Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre.

“The aquar­ium was al­ways us­able, it was used as a po­lit­i­cal tool by the La­bor Govern­ment to dis­credit Roy­al­ties for Re­gions and its in­vest­ment in Ex­mouth,” Mr Cata­nia said.

Pic­ture: Amanda Fuery

Shire pres­i­dent Matthew Ni­ikkula, Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Alan­nah MacTier­nan, Gas­coyne De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion chair­man An­drew Munro and Shire chief ex­ec­u­tive Cameron Woods.

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