By Danielle Kutchel
The community of Warneet is furious at a lack of action from Parks Victoria to fix the town’s two jetties.
Both jetties are currently partially or fully closed by Parks Victoria, ostensibly for safety reasons.
The Warneet North Jetty is listed on the Parks Victoria website as being “closed to public access until further notice”.
The website goes on to state that “recent assessments have discovered significant safety concerns for the structural capacity of the jetty”.
Meanwhile, the website lists Warneet South Jetty as “closed to pedestrians and vessel berthing” at the timber jetty head due to “significant safety concerns for the structural capacity of the jetty”.
But residents say it’s been a year since the closures with no action taken since to repair the structures – and they’re demanding answers.
Commodore of the Warneet Motor Yacht Club, Alex Stroud, said residents had been told by Parks Victoria that representatives would work with the town to reinstate the jetties.
But since their closure, Parks Victoria representatives have cut away a section of the North Jetty.
“So instead of attempting to repair the jetty, they came down with chainsaws and cut away a section of the jetty,” he explained.
With closures on both jetties, residents worry about their potential use in a bushfire evacuation point.
“Several residents use these jetties in their fire escape plans,” Mr Stroud said.
“Residents feel uneasy knowing the jetties are closed in a one-road-in, one-road-out town, we could be in the same situation as Mallacoota.”
Mr Stroud said he has requested information about the structural integrity of the jetties “numerous times” and has been told by Parks Victoria that there is no capital in the budget to fund the necessary repairs.
He said Parks Victoria had assured him that the organisation conducts “a rigorous inspection regime” of the structures – but Mr Stroud questions how they jetties could have fallen into such an extreme state of disrepair with annual inspections.
“Preventative maintenance goes a long way, they have not maintained [the jetties] in recent years,” he said.
He also isn’t convinced that reports into the condition of the jetties by Parks Victoria engineers actually exist.
Mr Stroud said he had asked for the assessments, but had been denied access to them as they’re considered “high risk and high consequence”.
He’s since lodged a Freedom of Information request to obtain the engineer’s reports, the engineer’s recommendation that the jetties be closed and the permission that was granted to remove a section of the North Jetty.
“It came as a great shock and concern when the jetties were closed. No one in Warneet was pleased that they were closed for repair,” he said.
“Those structural failures don’t appear overnight, it takes years of neglect.”
Barry Skene, president of The Warneet Association, said it was “disgusting” that Parks Victoria had taken so long to address the issues and communicate them to residents.
“We’ve sent letters to them and they come back and explain they inspect it every year, and that’s about it,” he said.
“They never said they would repair it or wouldn’t repair it, it just wasn’t done and it was closed off.”
He said the jetties aren’t just the heart and soul of Warneet; they’re also a vital attraction for Casey residents looking for a place to fish or be by the water.
“The piers are so important not only for the people in Warneet … but to people especially with the growth down here who want to go somewhere … to walk down the pier and have a fish safely. It’s neglectful in that regard,” he said.
Gordon Hynd, President of The Warneet North Boat Club, said the jetties were vital infrastructure for boaters in the area, allowing safe access for owners to repair their boats and to take passengers out on the water.
“We’ve just gone the whole summer without being able to do that,” he said.
“The maintenance that’s gone on on the North Jetty in particular…has been absolutely minimal.
“Whatever safety concerns or reasons they’ve closed the pier for – and I don’t doubt there’s some good reason for it – they won’t communicate that reason to us, the community.
“We’d like an explanation as to why they allowed it to deteriorate. And secondly, tell us what’s wrong with it, what needs to be done to fix it, what it’s going to cost and when you’re going to do it.
“If you can’t do it for some reason, perhaps we can work with them to find another solution.
“We encourage them to identify specifically what’s wrong with it and give us a time frame for fixing it. We’ve had one summer without it and we’ll be very disappointed if we go through another,” he said.
In a statement, Parks Victoria district manager Port Phillip and Western Port, Graeme Davis, said the organisation recognised the importance of the jetties to the town and acknowledged concerns over the closures.
“We have taken necessary safety precautions by closing the Warneet North Jetty following assessments that identified it was at risk of failure,” he said.
“Further investigations are required to determine the future of the jetty.
“Until planning around the future of the jetty is complete, public risk minimisation is our highest priority and the unsafe jetty will remain closed.”
According to Parks Victoria, its assessments determined the Warneet North Jetty had reached the end of its structural life.
The removal of deck boards on the North Jetty is understood to have been to prevent access breaches to the jetty while it was unsafe.
Warneet North Jetty was built in 1976, with timber jetties traditionally having a design life of between 30 and 50 years.
It’s understood the jetty deteriorated more rapidly in recent years due to its age and sustained exposure to harsh weather conditions.
In 2020, Minister for Fishing and Boating Melissa Horne announced $100,000 to fund planning for better facilities at Warneet.
The funding is being used to develop a recreational boating precinct plan for Warneet including a review of the existing boat ramp, jetties and boat trailer parking areas.
A drop in session was held in late April to discuss the project.
Parks Victoria stated it would “continue to prioritise the repair and renewal requirements of its large portfolio of maritime assets to deliver a safe and sustainable local ports network for all Victorians to enjoy“.
Hastings MP Neale Burgess said he was in regular contact with Mr Stroud about the closures, and has raised the matter in Parliament three times so far.
He said he has also written twice to the Minister for Fishing and Boating.
Mr Burgess plans to hold a public meeting at Warneet Motor Yacht Club after the lockdown ends.