Business owners in a remote town on the West Australian coast say the community’s landlocked yacht club is damaging their already struggling local economy.
Since April last year, the Carnarvon Yacht Club has been cut off from the ocean.
About 30 boats moored in the club are stuck behind a wall of silt that has gathered where the ocean meets Carnarvon’s bay.
The town has already missed one season of yachting tourists, and locals are worried they will miss the upcoming season, which runs from April to October.
Carnarvon tackle shop owner Janice Baird said about 80 per cent of her trade was from tourists.
“It definitely has affected us, unbelievably actually,” Ms Baird said.
“We used to get yachts that come during the winter months. It’s a bit of a safe haven here if they’ve travelled from Perth.”
She said missing another year of tourists would be a huge concern.
“We didn’t get them last year, and they spend money whether it’s fixing little bits and pieces on their boat, money in town. They still spend money when they’re here,” she said.
“It’s not just tackle shops that are losing out, it’s everybody.”
Shire feeling the pinch
Carnarvon Shire president Karl Brandenburg said the community was feeling the impact of missing touring yachts.
“It’s vital that we get that waterway, which is what we call our crown jewel, back open again,” he said.
Cr Brandenburg said silt gathering in the bay was an ongoing issue for Carnarvon.
“This is really highlighted now. It’s gone way bigger than we’ve ever had in the past,” he said.
“It’s never been closed for any more than a month or two.”
Cr Brandenburg said the shire wanted to engage consultants to find a path for a new channel that would keep the bay permanently open.
“This is definitely a climate change problem. It’s happening all over Australia and a lot of coastlines around the world,” he said.
He said the sand and dunes at the mouth to the bay were moving quickly.
Funding help needed to remove silt
Cr Brandenburg said the shire alone could not afford to foot the bill to shift the silt, which is expected to cost close to $1 million.
He said it had applied for a $750,000 grant in the state government’s Recreational Boating Facilities Scheme.
“We won’t be able to do anything until after June to see if we’re successful or not,” he said.
“We’ll be working as hard as we possibly can from the community’s point of view and the council’s point of view to see if there are some other options that come up.
“It is important for the community and for tourism for Carnarvon.”
In 1995 the Shire of Carnarvon signed a deed of agreement with the state government that left the shire responsible for maintaining the bay, or fascine, as it is known locally.
“The idea was a great idea, but it came with a whole host of criteria that was going to make this work, and that didn’t come to fruition, so the funding that was going to be raised to make all this happen, didn’t happen,” Cr Brandenburg said.
“It is very frustrating. We are working with the department to try and see if we can get a fair and equitable deed of agreement in place.”
Yacht club buys $110,000 dredger
Carnarvon Yacht Club manager Jim Williams said the club’s 54 pens were usually full during the yachting tourist season.
“It’s a bit like the grey nomads. Carnarvon offers a safe haven between Geraldton and Exmouth,” he said.
“In the tourist season we would expect not only our marina to be full of visitors but the fascine has moorings, and we would expect to have yachts filling the whole fascine up,” he said.
Last year the club purchased a $110,000 second-hand dredger, with the aim of being able to offer a dredging service to the shire.
“Our members have put in thousands and thousands of hours to restore the dredge to operational condition,” he said.
“We have just had it inspected by a marine surveyor. We are going to get her registered shortly.
“The members unanimously agreed that without a channel, there is no point in having a landlocked marina.
“Just this financial year we estimate to have lost about $80,000 just from lost pen fees, from lost fees from visitors coming to use our facilities, from lost income from bar sales because we don’t have the visitors — $110,000 is not a large amount in that context.
“The calculations we did showed that with a landlocked marina the club would be losing income very quickly, and soon find itself in a position where we are in quite serious financial difficulty.”
Mr Williams said once the dredge was registered, the club would approach the shire and offer the dredging service.
Cr Brandenburg said the shire could not legally guarantee the work to the yacht club without going through the procedural tender process, but he did think it was a good idea to have a dredger in the town.
“For the yacht club to purchase one and get it the way they have, we are very much in support of the yacht club, however we are still bound by the [Local Government] and we have to follow due process,” he said.
“We are pleased to see that somebody has finally taken the bit, and it could be a great outcome for the town if this works.”
Boaties frustrated by silt wall
Keith Brown is one of several people in Carnarvon who live permanently on their boats.
He said he was frustrated he could not sail out to sea.
“It’s terrible. All the people here want to go, and you can’t get out,” he said.
“Now is the time the weather is going to turn right, and we’d all just like to go.”
He said it was possible to have boats loaded onto a trailer and put into the ocean at the commercial boat harbour, but came at a cost.