Council rejects call for marine expert to accompany councillors on site visit

A request for a marine estuary biologist to accompany councillors on a site visit to Deeban Spit has been rejected.

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre made the request so that councillors could be given scientific information and have questions answered.

Sutherland Shire Council acting general manager Manjeet Grewal replied that some councillors had already elected to inspect the site themselves while others were very familiar with the area.

“The inspection, as resolved by council, is intended as a familiarisation of the area for councillors who wish to, and is limited to them only,” she said.

​Ms Grewal also said the council would provide a formal mechanism for community consultation.

The council is reconsidering its recommendation to the state government that boating and anchoring be banned from Deeban Spit in Port Hacking.

After heated debate at a council meeting last week, it was decided to defer a decision pending further studies, community consultation and site visits by councillors.

In December, 2018, the council endorsed a report by staff to ask that the spit be added as a special purpose zone to the proposed Sydney Marine Park.

Mayor Carmelo Pesce moved at last week’s meeting to “modify” the recommendation to allow boating and anchoring in 20 metre wide area around most of the spit.

Cr Pesce said this would maintain existing recreational usage, while maintaining restrictions on bait collection and net fishing. An important seagrass area would also be protected.

The mayor was supported by other Liberals and Labor councillor Michael Forshaw.

Several members of environment groups spoke at the meeting against changing the previous resolution.

Cr Pesce later strongly denied his motion was a “backflip”, saying it was designed to clarify, not change, the previous resolution, and this had been confirmed by the council staff member responsible for the report.

Labor councillor Barry Collier said Cr Pesce’s motion was “not just a catastrophic backflip, but a total embarrassment that calls into question both his judgement and his ability to lead Sutherland Shire”.

“The minutes of the committee meeting of November 5, 2018 confirm it was Mayor Pesce himself who recommended that council approve and endorse of the comprehensive and scientifically-based staff report on the Deeban Spit,” Cr Collier said.

Chair of Sutherland Shire Environment Centre Tassia Kolesnikow said the refusal to have an ecological consultant accompany councillors to Deeban Spit made the exercise “a waste of time and ratepayer money”.

Ms Kolesnikow said the protection of rare seabirds and seagrass communities was “something our councillors should be proudly supporting”.

“The SSEC will be asking councillors to justify any changes to the submission on scientific grounds,” she said.

Ms Kolesnikow said the mayor and other councillors should seek to put a halt to a misinformation campaign that was being conducted.

It was incorrect the environment centre wanted to stop all access.

“We have never advocated for anything other than halting access by motorised boats and jet skis,” she said.

“No one I have spoken to on this issue thinks that kayaks, paddle boards and canoes should be banned as their impact to the sea grass communities or danger to swimmers is negligible.”

Labor councillor Peter Scaysbrook said the council submission to the state government “appears to have developed a life of its own, well beyond any influence it is likely to exert”.

”Council's submission is only one of hundreds, or possibly thousands, of inputs that will attempt to address potential threats to the Hawkesbury Marine Bioregion, a vast area that stretches from Newcastle to Wollongong,” he said.

"The idea seems to have taken hold that council is considering imposing restrictions on areas within Sutherland Shire that are coming under scrutiny. Nothing could be further from the truth."

"Any regulations that may be applied to these areas are purely a matter for the state government.

“Council cannot formulate any of the rules to be applied in these zones, will have no jurisdiction, power or capacity to enforce them, and cannot apply any restrictions to activities within the nominated areas."

Cr Scaysbrook said was “not appropriate for councillors to cherrypick isolated components from the staff report’.

“It should be presented as is, and let the experts decide its validity,” he said.

“Council has made many submissions in the past, and to a variety of ministers.

“Perhaps the most confronting aspect of this whole process is the knowledge that if our success rate of past submissions is any guide, this one will be ignored as have most of the others.”

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