At the Douglas Shire Council Ordinary Meeting held Tuesday 25 August, 2020, Council made its first tentative steps in the debate with a decision to release a consultation paper on the crossing of the Daintree River. In a closed session, Council considered an options paper under agenda item 9.1 Prejudicial Matter S275(1)(H) Local Government Regulation 2012 Daintree River Crossing Options Report.
The content of the Options Paper is unknown at this stage. Why there is a need for such secrecy around the issue is questionable and has not been explained by Council.
DouglasNews.Network will closely follow Council’s handling of this matter during the projected three week consultation period. The adequacy of the length of the consultation period is a further question for debate.
As with any consultative process, outcomes are driven by the scope of the issues considered and the quality of the information provided to the public.
What should Douglas ratepayers, and the wider community, expect to see in an effective Options Paper, as the critical starting point for this important process?
As a minimum, an effective Options Report should contain the following elements:
Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA)
A CBA is a type of economic analysis that evaluates and determines which of two (or more) options are in the best interests of the community – a CBA will tell you whether the costs and benefits of a ferry are better than a bridge. A CBA can compare all types of costs (building costs, congestion costs, environmental costs, etc.) between options. Similarly, it can compare all types of benefits (time savings, financial improvements, jobs, environmental, social, wellbeing, etc) between the same options.
This is the gateway to one of the world’s most recognised World Heritage Areas. Increased traffic leads to increased environmental damage to the Shire’s natural capital – which is the largest single revenue-generating asset. A bridge will cause cause direct damage to the river environment.
One of the biggest selling points for a bridge is that it will bring in more tourists who spend money in the Shire. However inevitable road upgrades to accommodate through-traffic and 24-hour access may mean Daintree becomes the thoroughfare, not the destination that tourists travel through and don’t stay over.
The least valuable tourist is a day-tripper, the preference is for visitors who stay overnight, and spend more locally. Cooktown may be the beneficiary while the Douglas Shire pays the cost.
Real options approach – what is the actual problem we’re trying to solve
A real options approach is the evolutionary “no regrets” approach to dealing with real-world issues. The key thing is to select options that do not “lock you in”, that offer you the choice to adapt to changing circumstances as they arise, and to minimise the ‘regret’ that arises from being locked into a particular option that cannot be undone.
Design of bridge
Deciding which type of bridge to be considered is important.
Would anyone in the Douglas Shire be happy with a bridge that looked like the Bloomfield River bridge- a concrete platform with lots of piers in the river?
Cheaper, low level options are ugly, environmentally damaging, obstruct navigation and collect debris.
Financial – funding options/ debt / ROI
How will a bridge be funded?
How realistic is the prospect of Federal or State government grants and subsidies, and what proportion would they fund?
What costs will fall to ratepayers, and is that equitable?
To generate a return on the asset you need to ensure that you can monetise it. Allowing visitors to flow through does not allow you to monetise that asset.
How to recover costs – tolls, bed tax?
Permissions/ authorities/ licenses/ legal issues
Permits are required under State and Federal law concerning environmental impact. Planning Scheme amendments may be required. If approval is given, supervision and permits will be required by State and Federal Government authorities.
Legal challenges may be mounted and will need to be funded. Entering multi-million dollar contracts and monitoring those contracts will require additional resources including legal resources.
Total Infrastructure costs
The cost of all the roadwork leading to and from the bridge needs to be included in the costing. Other infrastructure costs might include drainage, power, lighting, and upgrade of infrastructure on other side of the bridge. Pressure to increase width of the road in Daintree to cater for up-scaled vehicles.
Ongoing costs – maintenance, decommissioning, tolls, ratepayers, cost recovery
Operating and ongoing maintenance costs are going to fall squarely on the ratepayers to maintain. Built infrastructure has a defined lifetime, at the end of which the structure needs to be demolished and removed, or it needs to be rebuilt.