Central Coast communities are suffering from a 40% drop in visitors following the suspension of the Palm Beach ferry service.
The ferry service between Palm Beach and Ettalong was suspended earlier this month due to the channel being deemed unsafe to cross because of degradation and shoaling.
Mathew Wales from The Peninsula Chamber of Commerce said the impact was already being felt by local businesses.
“The Palm Beach ferry caters for about 200,000 passengers per annum so the immediate impact is that you’re not getting those passengers coming to and from Ettalong and Palm Beach,” he said.
“At the moment, they’re being diverted through to Patonga and we’ve already seen about a 40% drop off in patronage numbers just for the month of April.”
We have people playing political badminton...
A political battle between local and state governments over responsibility for dredging the channel appears unresolved; short-term emergency funding of $250,000 has been announced by the State Government as an interim solution.
Central Coast Mayor Jane Smith said council would be lodging a “Rescuing our Waterways” funding application by June 8, which grants funding to councils on a dollar for dollar basis to help deliver better access to local waterways.
However, Ettalong business owner Larry Altavilla is concerned about the lack of a long-term solution.
“We have people playing political badminton with who’s now responsible for the funding of the channel,” he said.
“I will be optimistic when these guys stop playing around with the so-called band aid solution … the problem will be solved when they get their own dredger.”
According to the Deputy Mayor Chris Holstein: “The need is to have a longer-term solution to an issue that’s been on and off, an issue around for decades,” he said.
To develop a long-term solution, Central Coast Council is creating a working party of stakeholders to look at maintenance dredging, technical issues, environmental implications, community impacts and funding.
Council minutes outline that the channel was previously dredged in 2009-10 in which 30,000 cubic metres of sand was moved away from the main channel. On two occasions during 2017, smaller amounts totalling 3,000 cubic metres were dredged.
It is unclear when dredging will next take place and the ferry service, operated by Fantasea Cruising, will be operational again.