Geoff Bourgault is concerned with environmental aspects of the foreshore project
Local residents have raised revegetation, flooding and drainage concerns about the Bridgetown-Greenbushes Shire’s million-dollar Blackwood River Foreshore Project.
Revegetating the foreshore after construction work will be a complex and time-consuming task requiring hundreds of hours of work for a minimum of five years for long-term success.
But it’s difficult to predict exactly how much time will be required for the task and there are concerns that it will be beyond the capacity of community volunteers, who have been asked to carry it out.
However, the Shire has also approached the Bunbury Prison pre-release unit for help with the project.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice, which runs the prison, said that while nothing had been confirmed, the pre-release unit would like to be involved.
It has previously carried out similar revegetation projects, including in Busselton and Nannup, and had gained a lot of experience.
So far the cost of revegetation has not been included in the Shire’s costings for the project, but Shire president John Nicholas has said they’ll be guided by advice from the Shire Landcare Officer.
The success or failure of revegetation can have a big influence on the severity of flood damage. A 2018 submission on the project by local resident Adrian Williams raised concerns about the impact of floods on the project.
Mr Williams has an MSc in Soil and Water Engineering and has worked on flooding rivers including the Fitzroy river.
“Maintaining the natural riparian vegetation is exceedingly important for ‘calming’ high river flows and directing the main water flow in the correct natural direction,” Mr Williams said in his submission.
He claims under pruning of the native vegetation below the caravan park has left the ground largely bare, allowing water flows in the area to contribute to the boardwalk’s destruction.
“A new boardwalk will be a complete waste of money and is likely to be destroyed again by a future flood unless the riparian vegetation is first re-established,” he said in his submission.
Instead he favours a boardwalk built high above the vegetation and out of the reach of most floods that’s similar to the tree-top walk. He thinks that could become a tourist attraction in itself.
However, Shire president John Nicholas said the Shire had already decided not to replace the boardwalk as it’s constantly being washed away by floods. No alternative has been considered by council at this time.
Questions have also been raised about the choice of turf to be used throughout the project in areas for public access.
Given the probability of flooding with the Blackwood’s increasingly saline water it’s not clear from the project proposal whether salt-tolerant species will be planted that could cope with inundation.
Mr Nicholas, however, stressed that the Shire would be guided by the advice of its Landcare Officer on the choice of plant species for revegetation.
“I’ve no doubt she’s right across what needs to be done,” Mr Nicholas said, adding that weeds were the biggest problem.
The Blackwood is prone to flooding, with major floods in 1945, 1949, 1963, 1982 and 1988.
A number of constructions are planned for the projects, including rock swales, drainage works, a shelter, flowerbeds and a boat ramp.
Mr Williams questions whether they’ll simply be knocked down and swept downriver in a flood.
Mr Nicholas, however, says that all depends on the severity of the flood and that it’s difficult to build structures to withstand major one-in-a-hundred-year floods.
“When you get that sort of flooding I think all infrastructure is a bit of a worry, even the bridge has been considered a bit of an issue, however the infrastructure planned would withstand normal flooding,” Mr Nicholas said.
He thinks the shelter that’s planned in the proposal is above the 30-year flood level.
But flooding isn’t the only concern people have, drainage is also a problem, according to Rectory Estate resident Geoffrey Bourgault.
“Environmentally it’s going to be disastrous,” Mr Bourgault said.
“The sustainability committee went through there and looked at the plans and commented on them and all the comments were that it was a wetland area and its healthy and it’s meant to be wet.
“You don’t want to be draining all of this area into the river, and there are a lot of submissions that reflected that concern,” he said.
“It’s a huge drainage system and probably at least half the cost of the Rectory trail walk.”
Despite that he’s not entirely negative about the project, but he says his family enjoys the path just as it is.
“I don’t mind them putting a path there, the path is nice, it will allow more people to see the area and it will be better for the Shire,” Mr Bourgault said.
He thinks the whole project would benefit from a greater Aboriginal input, with their culture and knowledge of the land explained through signs along the walk.
“I think the Aboriginal involvement in this project could actually be the thing that saves it environmentally,” he said.
He points out that the Aboriginal word for the area close to Ford House is Cooyarup, which means “place of frogs”.
Mr Nicholas said that extensive Aboriginal consultation had already occurred and would continue throughout the development.
He agrees that drainage is a “big issue” but that the consultants, Emerge Associates, have dealt with it. He added that they were chosen because of their experience with similar projects.
“In their report they’ve taken consideration of the issues raised, but there are still drainage points in there, but water would still be retained in this area,” he said.
A major aim of the project is to improve access to the river for a variety of water activities and for people with disabilities to use the paths more easily. The lack of drainage on the Rectory Walk makes that difficult at present.
“We’re trying to make all of these things accessible to everyone, so that if you’re in a wheelchair, or if you’re semi-ambulant, then you can go on the Rectory Walk. Right now, you’d have to say that that’s not possible,” Mr Nicholas said.
“We’re confident that it’s going to be a significant improvement on what we’ve got and it’s ability to last is pretty high,” he said.