Sussex Inlet waterways are becoming impassable to boats, preventing Marine Rescue vessels from reaching boaters in need of emergency assistance.
Residents have been calling on Shoalhaven City Council to dredge the waterway since October, requests which have fallen on deaf ears.
A report tabled for council’s Natural Resources and Floodplain Committee tomorrow night does not recommend any action be taken to alleviate the problem.
“My concern is, people are going to drown,” Councillor Patricia White said.
“Council is not doing enough for the safety of people using our waterways.”
On at least two occasions in March, Sussex Inlet Marine Rescue vessels were unable to reach boaters due to the tide, and shallow depth of water over sandbars.
Members of the public were able to assist in one instance, and in the other instance, an Ulladulla Marine Rescue boat was called to the scene.
“This is completely impractical,” Cr White said
“It adds at least an hour to the rescue.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
As of April, there has been state government funding available to councils for dredging purposes.
Local Safe Navigation Action Group has been asking council to apply for the funding.
“Council is not aware of any requests from marine rescue regarding the channel or bar conditions at Sussex Inlet,” Council’s Planning, Environment and Development director Phil Costello said.
“This is not unexpected bearing in mind that the responsibility for dredging and navigation for Marine Rescue vessels rests with the State Government via Department of Primary Industries and Roads and Maritime Services.”
Cr White, who chairs the Natural Resources and Floodplain Committee, disagrees.
“Council has care and control of our waterways to make sure they are safe to navigate,” she said.
“They are turning a blind eye.”
Mr Costello said seagrass may stand in the way of a successful application to the state government.
“Any excavation of the inlet bed would require approval from NSW Crown Land and NSW DPI Fisheries, given the damage to marine vegetation (seagrass) that would be required,” Mr Costello said.
Safe Navigation Action Group spokeswoman Janis Natt believes safety should take precedence over conservation of the seagrass.
“You can’t touch the seagrass according to the Greens, but it’s not the endangered seagrass that’s there anyway,” she said.
“When our coastal patrol can’t get out to sea in their smallish boat, then what are they there for?”
Council undertook a study and adopted a citywide dredging strategy in April 2014.
This strategy identified the major priorities which included the Sussex Inlet channel and bar as identified in the study.
The original dredging footprint contained in the strategy was significantly reduced by the actions of an east coast low weather event in August 2015, however works were undertaken between March-December 2016 to achieve the navigation standards adopted in Council’s dredging strategy.
Since then no dredging has been undertaken at Sussex Inlet.