The controversial new sculpture of a boat, that cost nearly $300,000 dollars at Woodlark Street, Lismore.
The controversial new sculpture of a boat, that cost nearly $300,000 dollars at Woodlark Street, Lismore. DOUG EATON

Council in deep water with residents over $300,000 sculpture

LISMORE'S controversial new $291,500 boat sculpture, titled Alternating Current, blew its budget partially due to an initial agreement with Essential Energy falling through, Lismore City Council claims.

A spokeswoman also said the copper boat skeleton, which will not result in any lost car parks in its Woodlark St location once fully complete, needed to be installed "in order to comply with the Federal Government grant" of $96,688.

The sculpture has raised the ire of Northern Rivers residents, who have questioned the expense of the project and expressed anger at the size of the budget blow-out.

Hundreds of people took to The Northern Star's Facebook page to debate the worth of the project, with most saying the money would have been better spent on other things.

"Lismore needs some public toilets before works art works," one commenter said. "Provide the community with basic needs first."

The boat's initial budget of $176,688, consisting of the grant and $80,000 chipped in by the council, blew out by $114,812 due to storage costs and the need to build a large concrete platform to situate the boat.

Lismore City Council said this was because "original installation could not occur due to safety concerns and subsequent notification by Essential Energy that they would not upgrade the substation or contribute to the project as initially indicated by Country Energy".

Essential Energy replaced Country Energy as the State owned corporation responsible for providing electricity services in regional NSW in 2011.

An Essential Energy spokesman said: "With the change to a core business of electricity distribution network operations, funded by its customers, Essential Energy was unable to commit the amount of money required to bring the project to fruition and advised the council of this."

The original installation plan envisioned that a substation box would be used as 'cargo' within the boat's hull and during large floods the boat would look buoyant, but safety concerns over oil leakage from the box sunk that plan.

Public reaction to the sculpture, designed by Gail Mason, has seemingly been largely negative and opinions flooded locally-based social media sites before the removal of surrounding scaffolding today.

Many bewildered, and occasionally delighted, pedestrians passing through Woodlark St stopped in their tracks to examine and chat about Lismore's new example of public art.

Opinions at the scene varied, but many pointed out the sculpture's divisive appearance and extravagant cost.

Queensland sculptor Paul D Johnson was paid $150,000 to craft the boat, but that included materials, fabrication and lighting, according to the spokeswoman.

The sculpture's plain, unadorned concrete platform will not be painted.

Purpose built lighting has been installed and panels detailing Lismore's flood history have been placed on the sculpture's pylons.

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