DOUGLASNEWS.NETWORK EDITORIAL TEAM
DouglasNews.Network is appalled by the Douglas Shire Council’s handling of the Daintree River Crossing service currently provided by contractor Sirron Enterprises.
There is a risk there will be no ferry at on July 1. If that is the case, is the Mayor going to blame the current contractor?
Nothing could be further from the truth – the current contractor has been poorly treated. Sirron Enterprises won the tender after an exhaustive process in December 2019. Sirron offered a solution to ferry queues by providing an additional ferry service to deliver efficient, reliable access for local residents and visitors.In addition, this was to be an electric, solar-assisted, low carbon footprint service, attracting positive attention to the Shire’s ecotourism credentials. This was to be provided by an operator who has delivered more than a decade of reliable service.
So what happened?
The previous Council adopted the two-ferry tender, announcing it publicly, and instructing the CEO to execute the contract in December 2019. Had the CEO negotiated the signed contract as instructed, the service would have been in operation on July 1, 2021.
For reasons still not clear to DouglasNews.Network, the Council decision was not executed.
It remains unclear why the ferry contract was not executed before the election was announced, nor is it clear why the CEO said it could not be progressed during caretaker mode. Caretaker mode commenced in February 2020. This tender was awarded in two months previous, December 2019. Ongoing Council business-such as completing contracts-can continue during caretaker mode, otherwise the whole operational business of Council would cease.
Was it then coincidental that the first item on the first agenda of the new Council was a decision to suspend the ferry contract by way of Mayoral minute – to explore building a bridge with no prior notice?
No staff report on the concept?
No legal advice?
And was passed by Council three votes to two?
Council has spent tens of thousands of dollars on a public survey to evaluate the community appetite for a bridge. They failed to appreciate that the ferry is widely valued as a quaint, albeit sometimes inconvenient, but wonderful gateway to the Daintree Coast, home to one of the world’s most cherished biological treasures and a global tourism icon.
Despite the bridge being promoted by Mayor Kerr and MP Warren Entscsh, unsurprisingly, the survey response was 2:1 against the proposed bridge. Both Kerr and Entsch publicly softened their enthusiasm for a bridge as they saw the survey results coming in.
Once it was patently clear that the community did not want a bridge, they could have rescued the situation. After unnecessary drama (albeit with a year delay), Council could have proceeded with the already approved (and suspended) two-ferry contract. At least we may have had two ferries and no queues by the 2022 tourist season.
But no. For some unknown reason Council did not choose the obvious solution.
Is a bridge still on the agenda?
Is Council going to buy the ferry and operate it?
What are they going to do about the traffic queues? Especially now that hire cars have record bookings with self-drive tourists.
How much is all this going to cost the ratepayer?
There must be some explanation- it is beyond comprehension that the Council would risk having no service at all in six weeks.
The blame for this whole fiasco must fall with Mayor Kerr and the two Councillors who have supported him on this from the outset, Councillors Scomazzon and McKeown. We are fortunate that Councillors Noli and Zammataro do their best to ensure fairness, equity and a reliable service to residents and visitors, and continue to do so.
Douglas Shire Council is holding another Special Meeting on Monday May 17, 2021 at 3.30pm. Councillors have asked the CEO to provide critical final details for the Daintree River crossing options which will be tabled at this final Special Council Meeting.
Meetings are now open to the public.
There will be a maximum of 10 people allowed (due to size of the room and to allow for social distancing) and will not need to pre-register.