More than 100 people gathered at Town Beach Park today (June 21) to protest against Transport for NSW Maritime's $5 million upgrade to Port Macquarie's iconic breakwall.
Locals and visitors joined Port Macquarie-Hastings Mayor Peta Pinson, Councillor Danielle Maltman and bodyboarding legend Damian King at the final community consultation session to express their concerns.
The upgrade involves rebuilding 600 metres of the wall and includes a new access ramp to the caravan park, new five metre-wide shared pathway and lighting.
Some of the painted rocks will be submerged in the river with new rocks placed on top.
The main concerns involve the removal of the painted rocks and pine trees, disability access and the impact of fishing and surfing.
Councillor Pinson said she is happy to take the community's comments up through the chamber and to Deputy Premier and State Nationals leader Paul Toole.
"On Saturday, I actually had an hour with the Deputy Premier of NSW and I raised this very issue with him," she said.
"I said, 'This is going to be a lead balloon and it's going to go down in a handbasket, because once this community starts to understand exactly what's going on here, they will be none too pleased.'"
Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams said it's incredibly disappointing that in the midst of a community engagement process about the Port Macquarie breakwall, councillors have chosen to play politics rather than take a proactive approach.
"This is actually the second time this project has gone out to consultation," Mrs Williams said from State Parliament. "The first time was actually in 2016 when council had developed the plans.
Mr King ("Kingy") said he represents the bodyboarding and surfing community who think the upgrade will disrupt the waves at Port Macquarie breakwall.
"It will change everything, and it won't be a good thing," he said.
"Since I put something up on social media, I've had people from Ballina and Forster saying, "fight for your breakwall because they did the same thing to ours and it's ruined'."
Jeffrey Pink from Sydney raised concerns about the disability access in the planned upgrade.
"We come here this time of year for five to six weeks. One of the guys that comes with us is handicapped and uses a mobility scooter.
"Basically, for Brian it's access to the breakwall when we're at the caravan park. Every time he wants to come up on the wall, [he has to] come all the way down here to the ramp - that's a long track for him.
"They've got access to stairs for normal people, but we need access for wheelchairs, prams and people who can't walk properly"
Port Macquarie local Brad Gordon said he is in favour of an upgrade to the breakwall but is worried about the extent of the upgrade that is outlined in the plan.
"I think some upgrade is good, but I think a total overhaul is going to impact a lot of us who use the wall," he said.
"[I'm concerned] that we're going to lose a lot of our prime fishing spots, the surf is obviously going to be affected, as well as the marine life.
Port Macquarie residents Howie Griffin and Derryl Huf said they would like to see the upgrade include fishing platforms for the community to access.
"In the original information that I received, they said that fishing platforms were going to be installed and then they cancelled them," Mr Griffin said.
"There's a real fishing community here. They might be coming from Queensland or South Australia, [and] they come here for the blackfish and the jewfish.
"They camp in the caravan park here so they make money out of it. They've got to have fuel, they buy gear from the fishing shops and their wives go into town and shop.
"It's just a win-win for Port Macquarie and if they take that away... people are going to go to South West Rocks or Forster to fish."
Mr Huf agreed that the lack of a fishing platform will send business elsewhere.
"I think [the planned upgrade] is beautiful, but they're not taking into any consideration to people like us who like to fish," Mr Huff said.
"If you go up the coast to Yamba, they've got such a beautiful breakwall and fishing platform so that's where they're going to go. It will send business elsewhere, so we want to keep the business here if we can."
Graham Baily from the Hunter Valley said he regularly comes to Port Macquarie to fish.
The proposed upgrade will take about six months to complete, weather and tides permitting.
It is expected construction will start in the first half of 2023, pending all approvals.
The community is invited to provide feedback by filling out the online survey on the state government's have your say page or contacting the project team via email@example.com until July 15.
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