Douglas Shire Councillors have voted in favour to accept the four Mayoral Minutes put forward by Mayor Kerr this morning at Council’s first official Ordinary Council Meeting.
In summary, Council have resolved to:
- Temporarily suspend contract negotiations between Douglas Shire Council and Sirron Enterprises Pty Ltd for contract 2019 – 084 Daintree Ferry Contract 2021
- Amend the current water bill of the Mossman RSL
- Have the CEO allocate in the Community Development 2019-20 Budget $5,000 to investigate if the privately-owned pool located next to Oaks Resort in Port Douglas is a feasible option for Council to purchase
- Express Council’s support for the Federal Government’s Daintree microgrid project
Update/ DSC motion to temporarily suspend Daintree Ferry negotiations
Douglas Shire Council has concluded its first official Ordinary Council Meeting of the new term this morning with residents logging on to the Council Facebook page to watch the meeting live-streamed. The stream, at the time of writing, has attracted over 240 comments and surpassed 3400 views.
After a short statement, Mayor Kerr got down to business on the first agenda item – four Mayoral Minutes for consideration.
Mayoral Minute 1, Daintree Ferry called for Council to “temporarily suspend contract negotiations between Douglas Shire Council and Sirron Enterprises Pty Ltd for contract 2019 – 084 Daintree Ferry Contract 2021”, whilst Council explored the option of a bridge crossing and the possible economic benefits to the region, followed by further community consultation.
Lively and passionate discussion followed an initial question from Cr Noli to CEO Mark Stoermer regarding the legality of the Mayoral Minutes. The CEO advised Cr Noli he had forwarded an email to all Councillors confirming the legality of the Mayoral Minutes.
In her speech to Council, Cr Noli outlined concerns regarding the suspension of contract negotiations with the ferry operator Sirron Enterprises Pty Ltd. Financially, Cr Noli queried if Council could be “liable for some type of financial loss” should Sirron Enterprises instigate a breach of contract lawsuit. Cr Noli outlined there would be a reduction in the local employment of currently 18 – 20 employees should a bridge replace the ferry, a loss of Council ferry revenue and a potential stain on the reputation of Council backtracking on contract negotiations with other suppliers in the future.
Cr Noli also voiced concerns regarding the associated depreciation and ongoing maintenance costs of a bridge which would be saddled upon ratepayers without a compensating revenue stream.
Responding to discussions regarding the level of community consultation and transparency, Cr Noli outlined the extensive lengths Council undertook to ensure a broad consultative process over the past two years, including emails to stakeholder databases, mailouts to residents north of the river, handouts at the ferry, face to face meetings, editorials in the Mossman and Port Douglas Gazette and Newsport, media releases and two open community forums. Coupled with a Traffic and Engineers Assessment and 57 page Daintree Ferry Contract Community Engagement Findings Report, of which only “5% proposed the ferry be replaced with a bridge”, Cr Noli, with the support of Cr Zammataro believed the significant level of consultation Council had conducted with the community prior to going out to tender for a new ferry was more than sufficient. Mayor Kerr disagreed, commenting “we have to be able to consult with everybody.”
Adding to Cr Noli’s concerns, Cr Zammataro confirmed on 3 December 2019 Council Officers had stated “it is important to begin the design phase immediately (of the new ferry system) to allow enough time for the permit approval process and subsequent construction phase”, noting it had been five months since the council resolution to proceed with the two ferry solution had been passed and not completed by the CEO, lending weight to Cr Noli’s concerns a delay in contract negotiations may result in a cessation of ferry services post the current ferry contracts expiry on the 30th of June 2021.
Cr Noli concluded her opposition remarks with a statement of support for the ferry as a tourism experience adding the ferry crossing was an “intrinsic and cherished part of the Daintree experience that sets the scene for travellers.”
Cr Scomazzon and Cr McKeown supported Mayor Kerr in a temporary suspension of ferry contract negotiations, commenting costings of both options should be explored and presented to the community.
Cr McKeown suggested should a ferry contract be required prior to a decision being made on the viability of the two ferry solution or a bridge, the current contract be extended by five years giving Council time to explore all options extensively and consult with the public.
Upon the conclusion of the open session of the Council meeting, Cr Noli submitted a petition received from the Douglas Shire Sustainability group opposing the suspension of ferry contract negotiations, which at the time of writing, had attracted over 2800 signatures.
The Douglas Shire Council has since released details of the review.