Shire takes on island responsibility

Shire takes on island responsibility

East Gippsland Shire Council will take over as the committee of management for Bullock Island.

One month after a split council vote saw mayor, Cr Natalie O’Connell, maintain the status quo by using her casting vote to go against a take over from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DEWLP), the latter remaining the responsible authority for maintaining seawall infrastructure, councillors voted unanimously to accept an amended notice of motion which stated in point six that council had the ability, under the partnership agreement, to relinquish responsibility back to DEWLP in the event there was an unacceptable cost burden to ratepayers.

Lakes Entrance councillor, Dick Ellis, said this was an important amendment to the original motion, but more significantly, this would be great news for the Lakes Entrance community.

Cr Ellis circulated to fellow councillors four photos of Bullock Island, which highlighted “the beauty, and passive recreational opportunities” of the island.

“Every community has a core or prime location which helps to identify its being, its culture, a sense of belonging. Arguably Bullock Island is that location to many in the community of Lakes Entrance,” Cr Ellis said.

“A location that interfaces with the vast majesty of the Gippsland Lakes and the power and perils of its entrance, a welcoming sight for those returning from the churning seas of Bass Strait.

“It is a place, though seemingly abandoned and tattered, is the Cinderella of the Lakes Entrance foreshore, that is special. So, despite the tag and baggage, it holds a highly valued appeal that offers so much joy and purpose to local and visitor alike. Some more passionate citizens tend to call it an iconic location.

“The shire has never had direct management responsibilities for the open space on Bullock Island. That has lain with the Crown with the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning being the Crown Reserve Manager. A sore point with its community.

“Frustratingly, particularly from a public viewpoint, council under current and past land manager arrangements has been unable to contribute to works and improvements on the island to any real degree.

“Pleasingly, of more recent time and as part of renewed goodwill and state government initiative in coastal management practices, council can now confidently move to take responsibility for the sought after parts of the island.

“More precisely it is now proposed that DELWP will formally appoint council as the committee of management for the vacant/undeveloped open space on Bullock Island excluding all seawall infrastructure.

“Importantly under this arrangement DEWLP will continue to source funding to repair or replace the deteriorating seawalls as part of the hand over to council. The seawalls are not a council responsibility.

“Councillors, this is a long overdue project that has strong local support and carries strong cultural, societal, environmental and economic benefits to the community of Lakes Entrance and for that matter the wider East Gippsland community. It is worthy of support by all. It is a proposition that ticks all the boxes.”

Crs Joe Rettino and Marianne Pelz agreed with Cr Ellis that the addition of point six - that the partnership agreement will be amended to stipulate that if there is an unacceptable cost burden to ratepayers, and council determines to relinquish committee of management responsibilities, the Crown will accept management responsibility over the relinquished land – was a favourable outcome for council and the Lakes Entrance community.

“I believe that now alleviates concerns, puts council in the right light and basically holds council harmless if anything untoward comes out of the blue,” Cr Rettino said.

“I am satisfied there is a get out for council. The previous motion, we felt there was a commitment for council, but it didn’t state a monetary amount we were committing our community ratepayers for,” Cr Pelz said.

“This property needs to be developed further and I conclude with my fellow councillors, but it can only be done so by state and federal grant funding, which will be ran through the council body.

“The situation that most councillors were not happy with was it being a bottomless pit like some of the other legacy programs such as the Raymond Island ferry, the Bastion Point boat ramp and some of the other issues we pay for out of ratepayer funds.”

Lakes Entrance Action Development Association president, Bruce Hurley, who spoke in favour of the motion, was thrilled with the outcome and is looking forward to seeing work begin on the island.

“Council supporting the Bullock Island partnership agreement with DELWP is a historic moment for Lakes Entrance,” he said.

“Lakes has been waiting for this moment for a long time. It clears the way for a staged development of the island.”