A proposed Daintree Bridge may saddle the Douglas Shire Council and its ratepayers with over $60 million in debt
Had the original Council decision been executed, the two-ferry solution would have been operating by July 1, 2021.
Now options are locked in:
- Douglas Shire Council decides to go ahead with the two-ferry solution. It loses a year, spends money and risks having no ferry at all.
2. Douglas Shire Council borrows over $60 million to build a bridge. This is a massive, high risk debt to ratepayers- for what benefit?
3. The State and Federal governments give Douglas Shire Council over $60 million and allow for a toll. It is highly unlikely that governments would build a controversial toll bridge to benefit so few people, to damage the environment and to threaten the economy when a two-ferry solution provides good access, costs the governments nothing, employs over 20 people and visitors enjoy an iconic experience.
The Daintree River Crossing – Options Assessment Report can easily give a false impression of costs and benefits unless it is read and analysed closely.
The table below gives the impression that a return bridge toll of $20 would mean that there would be no cost to residents and ratepayers.
The Report states: “The figures do not take into account the cost of capital finance (loan repayments) and only include the operations, maintenance and depreciation costs. Scenarios are modelled based on no loans being required for the options and 9,443 rateable properties across the Shire “
This table is based on the fact that its figures “only include the operations, maintenance and depreciation costs.”
The costs of constructing the bridge, the roads, buying the resumed property, consultancy fees and the substantial legal costs are missing.
It assumes that Council will not have to borrow the money as the “ Scenarios are modelled based on no loans being required…” It therefore assumes that the State and Federal Governments would fund it.
It is doubtful that the State and Federal Governments will fund a bridge given that; only a few hundred residents live north of the Daintree River and only 5% said they wanted the bridge option in the extensive public consultation undertaken by the previous Council.
Governments would not spend such large sums of money for the benefit of so few people. Especially, when there is substantial local, national and international opposition to building a bridge over the Daintree.
More than 20,000 people have signed a petition to stop it and more are signing it every day. The concept of a Daintree River bridge is already highly controversial and governments tend to avoid funding public controversies as it is a bad look for their re-election prospects.
No government funding means that the Council will have to borrow around $60 million and most likely substantially more to build the bridge compared to $2.8 million for the two-ferry option. If the Council does not get permission to charge a toll for the bridge, it will need to charge substantially more than the $20 quoted in the Report above.
If Council borrows money, it will also be paying interest over the duration of the bridge being constructed. Naturally, they couldn’t charge a toll for a bridge that doesn’t exist – so a toll, if it is approved, would not generate any income for the construction period.
This will be a cost to the budget that is ultimately paid by residents and ratepayers.
Douglas Shire Council should have completed an analysis of the extra cost to ratepayers if a toll is not approved based on the costs of borrowing more than $60 million.
It should have completed a similar analysis of the real cost of a toll when repaying a $60 million debt. Ignoring these as realistic scenarios could give a false impression and be interpreted as weighting the consultation to favour a bridge, as opposed to providing a fair and balanced Options Paper.
Our current economic recession, the worst in 90 years, is the wrong time for our Council to take on a massive debt burden. Most businesses, residents and ratepayers are finding it tough with many already experiencing serious financial difficulties. The last thing our residents and ratepayers need is another increase in Council rates, fees and charges.
While there may be some job opportunities during the bridge construction phase, typically most of the work for these large scale engineering projects will go to appropriately experienced outside contractors, not to locals. On the other hand, implementation of a bridge will finalise the employment of over 20 locals who work on the ferry. This significant loss of income will have serious flow-on effects for local businesses at a time when they need more customers spending money, not less.