Sam Tomlin, 04 February 2016

The Shire of Esperance says money donated to support the maintenance of the town’s historic tanker jetty will be used to construct its replacement.

The Shire Council voted unanimously to demolish and replace the historic structure, arguing any attempt to repair the tourist attraction would impose too big a cost on ratepayers.

A crowd of around 200 residents attended Tuesday night’s special council meeting, convened to decide on the fate of the jetty, forcing a quick relocation to the nearby Esperance Civic Centre.

Since 1990, we’ve had all those years enjoying her, but in hindsight it was a poisoned chalice.

Esperance Shire president Victoria Brown

After an extended and emotional public question time, councillors voted 9–0 to move ahead with the demolition, pending approval from the Heritage Council.

While the Shire intends to replace the structure, a timeframe has not been established for the construction of a new jetty.

“This would have to be the hardest decision I have made as part of council,” shire president Victoria Brown said.

“We’re gutted; we’re sad. After the meeting I wanted to cry.”

Questions over donated funds

With demolition set to cost $1.8 million, much of the public questioning centred on the $43,000 donated by visitors and residents towards maintaining the jetty.

While some residents feared the money would be used to pay for the demolition, with $900,000 set to be withdrawn from the shire’s Tanker Jetty Fund to cover half the costs, Councillor Brown said the money would form part of $1 million seed capital to fund the jetty’s replacement.

“That amount of money would never, never have come anywhere near the amount required that was needed for repairs to be done on her,” she said.

“We decided to take $900,000 out of the Priority Projects Reserve, and $900,000 out of the Tanker Jetty reserve, leaving $1 million in there to show the community we are committed to building the replacement structure.

“You can argue, absolutely, that $43,000 is still in there, committed to building a replacement.”

However Councillor Brown said plans, costs and a timeframe for the replacement were still a long way off, and would depend on the outcome of further community consultation, as well as the success of applications for state and federal funding.

“At the moment, we don’t have a concept of what the community wants, and we’ve got to ask the community what they want for a design,” she said.

Current and former Esperance residents took to social media today to criticise the decision, with the Esperance Ratepayers Association also launching a push for a public referendum on the issue.

Engineers say damage has reached dangerous levels

Built by the WA Government Railway in 1935, the jetty remained in use by tankers until the mid-1970s, when it was replaced by the modern-day Esperance Port.

While it grew into a popular destination for tourists, swimmers and fishers, wear and tear continued to be a major ongoing issue.

The removal of seven sections due to serious damage in the late 1980s created the “Tanker Jetty Island”, which was eventually demolished last year.

The Shire eventually took control of the jetty from the State Government in 1990, with $150,000 support.

Councillor Brown said that decision was a well-intentioned, but misguided call.

If it falls to the bottom of the sea, it’s going to be very expensive to remove.

Esperance Shire president Victoria Brown

“Since 1990, we’ve had all those years enjoying her, but in hindsight, it was a poisoned chalice,” she said.

“There was no indication then how much it was going to cost the community.”

The Jetty was closed last year for public safety reasons.

Shire project manager Alan Hughes said the structure’s condition had rapidly deteriorated since then.

“The jetty is moving, it’s mobile,” he said.

“In engineering terms, it has ceased being a structure, and become a mechanism.”

Mr Hughes said the jetty had sunk by 150mm in it’s worst areas, and had dropped a further 5mm since Monday.

“I believe it is beyond economic repair,” he said.

Large cost to ratepayers for any repairs

With the Shire estimating the cost of a long-term repair of the current jetty to be $11.8 million, Councillor Brown said ratepayers were unlikely to be willing to foot the bill.

“All I’ve heard in the last few years is: ‘I want low rates’; ‘I want a Tanker Jetty’; ‘I want an indoor sports stadium’; ‘I want a lovely town’; ‘I want good roads’,” she said.

“Well, we all know that comes at a cost, and it will ultimately fall back on the ratepayer.”

She said the Shire would press ahead with the demolition as soon as possible, with any further deterioration likely to increase the costs.

Under the Shire’s agreement with the Port, any further collapse that blocks or obstructs the shipping lane could bring further costs.

“If it falls to the bottom of the sea, it’s going to be very expensive to remove,” Councillor Brown said.

“We’re going to have a celebration of her life, so we’ve just got to keep the momentum going; we’ve got to keep the ball rolling.

“We’ve got to sell why we need a replacement structure.”

Extracted in full from ABC News.