Esperance council votes down last-ditch hope of halting demolition

Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Photo: Jesinta Burton.

The Friends of the Esperance Tanker Jetty have vowed to keep fighting despite being dealt a crushing blow by the majority of the Shire of Esperance council.

A narrow but decisive vote

Council voted on November 26, to reject a motion to investigate decisions made surrounding the upcoming demolition and instead voted to continue with the current process.

Speaking to his motion to endorse the construction tender, deputy Basil Parker said more than 80 per cent of the community wanted the jetty as soon as possible.

"New councillors have had a chance to view the Friends' proposal and it's now time to draw a line in the sand," he said.

"No more roadblocks. Let's forget about winning and losing. Our community want us to get on with this now."

Cr Dale Piercey spoke against the motion and said it would only make the new councillor's liable for the old council's decisions.

"I cannot accept that proper procedures have been carried out at all times," she said.

"Openness and accountability are what our community expects of us."

Cr Piercey cited the Community Perception Survey as evidence the community was unhappy with the shire's current direction.

A small amount of people are holding the entire town to ransom over this.

Cr Jennifer Obourne.

Cr Jennifer Obourne said she 'strongly supported' Cr Parker's motion.

"The jetty was designed to last 50 years and it is now 84 years old. It's time to let her go," she said.

"A small amount of people are holding the entire town to ransom over this."

Cr Obourne acknowledged not everyone was happy, but said the majority was.

Cr Steve McMullen said the issue had gone on for far too long.

"The community has spoken. We are going to deliver them a brand new jetty," he said.

"Let commonsense prevail."

Cr Wes Graham said thousands in the community had not been heard and blasted previous councillors for planning to destroy the jetty without a plan to replace it.

Cr Graham said the shire hadn't tendered for a timber jetty and hadn't considered the environmental impacts of demolition.

Cr Jo-Anne O'Donnell said the community was still divided over the issue and she wanted the contracts reviewed.

Shire president Ian Mickel spoke for Cr Parker's motion, saying he had listened to the Friends' proposal and had 'questions' about sourcing appropriate timber as a result.

Cr Mickel said even if it was found council didn't have the authority to the award the contract, case law had shown the contract would stand.

The vote was 5-4, with Cr Parker, Mickel, Obourne, McMullen and Ron Chambers in favour and Cr Piercey, Shelley Payne, Graham and O'Donnell against.

The vote in favour of Cr Parker's motion delivered a knock-out blow to the lobby group against the current jetty project. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

The vote in favour of Cr Parker's motion delivered a knock-out blow to the lobby group against the current jetty project. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

With Cr Parker's counter-motion succeeding, Cr Payne's motion to investigate past decisions was doomed before it was even moved.

Cr Payne said she had sought a 'probity review', not to take a different course of action, but to ensure good governance.

She said her motion was a chance to show transparency and good governance.

"We are demolishing something that we don't own, it is [the community's] asset we are demolishing," she said.

Cr Payne said legal costs would be "well worth it" to improve the processes and best practices in assessing contracts.

Cr Piercey seconded the motion and said timber would be environmentally friendly, faster to build and could start within weeks.

The same five councillors who passed Cr Parker's motion defeated Cr Payne's.

Following the vote, Friends member Richard Grant heckled the shire president.

"You deceived the public and you deceived the community," he said.

Mr Grant claimed Cr Mickel was voted in on a platform of opposing deconstruction.

Cr Mickel took the jeer in his stride, thanking Mr Grant and mentioning an email he received from him the night before. The Express notes Cr Mickel was openly undecided on the jetty issue as a candidate. He consistently said he would review the details before making a decision.

Friends mull court battle

Friends acting chair David Eltringham said he was disappointed with the vote, but insisted the fight for a timber jetty wasn't over.

"No way. No it's not over," he said.

"We're just taking today [November 27] to regather. We might be down today, but we're not out."

Mr Eltringham said taking the issue to court might be an option, but was not yet sure if that would involve suing the state government or the shire.

"There's the state government officials just sitting back watching what happens. No one's had the balls to stand up to the Esperance Shire council," he said.

"Unfortunately there's been a carry over of lack of openness and transparency and it's hard to comprehend how this current council can brush these issues under the carpet that spell out failures of the shire council to fulfill their obligations and statutory requirements."

"The community is going to pay for this."

Mr Eltringham said Esperance could have had a timber jetty reconstructed more than a 18 months ago, but the shire ignored the Friends and took too long to get its design heritage approved.

What's next?

Cr Mickel told local media he was proud of all of his fellow councillors for 'speaking out with passion'.

"I thought it was an excellent outcome from the team. I was really proud and delighted with their performance," he said.

The shire president said he couldn't control what the Friends did from here on, but hoped the community would move forward.

"I don't think that they're going to find that they can close down that contract anyways," he said.

"There's a brand new jetty coming that people will have the privilege of using. We've been a community without a jetty."

Shire chief executive officer Matthew Scott said the shire was finalising a pad to receive the materials coming off the jetty.

"We've got to hand over possession of the site to the contractor, which will be happening in the next few days," he said.

Mr Scott said it was up to the contractor to then start physical deconstruction.

Demolition is expected to be well underway by the end of the year and construction is expected to start about March, 2020.