Aerial view of Ballina bar and surrounds.
Aerial view of Ballina bar and surrounds. David Nielsen

Boaties fear deadly Ballina bar

SIX boats have capsized on the dangerous Richmond River bar at Ballina so far this year, and rescue crews, professional fishers and politicians are demanding action.

In the most recent incidents, two boats overturned Saturday morning.

It has been just over 12 months since a 63-year-old Casino man died when the boat he was on capsized while trying to cross the bar.

But concern is growing that more people will be killed unless something is done.

Minister for the North Coast and Ballina MP Don Page said he had been approached by many groups calling for the bar to be dredged.

“It certainly is a very real concern,” he said.

“I think it is important we try to do something, if for no other reason than to improve the safety.

“At the moment, I think we have solved one of the problems.

“I have found out an environmental impact statement will not need to be lodged for dredging work because the bar is a navigable waterway.

"So that has gotten rid of the red tape.

“Now we need to find a dredge, and figure out who is going to pay for it.”

For Ballina Mayor Phillip Silver, deciding how the project would be funded is a worry.

He said he did not believe it was a council’s responsibility to pay for dredging.

“We have written to the Transport Minister and we’ve written to the Minister for Primary Industries,” he said.

“Clearly the bar needs to be fixed; it needs to be better.

“The council supports dredging – but there is the cost issue.”

Marine Rescue Ballina commander Norm Lannoy agreed that dredging would fix the bar, but only temporarily.

“This is the worst I’ve seen the bar in 12 years,” he said.

“Dredging would help, but only for a certain amount of time.

“Most of the sand is moving north so it will silt up again.”



Boaties must take more responsibility when crossing the bar, says Marine Rescue Ballina commander, Norm Lannoy.

“It’s like driving a car on a wet road,” he said.

“You have to slow down and drive to the conditions.

“Crossing the bar is not the same – it has changed, it is more dangerous now.

“Skippers have to be really aware of that and make an educated decision on whether to go out or not.

"Ring the tower and get a bar report.

“Go up and have a look and assess it. If you decide to go, log on with the tower.

“It’s only a small percentage of people – a minority – who cause problems or don’t take the proper precautions.”


SOUND ADVICE: How to fix the bar

Before any decisions are made about dredging the bar, authorities need to “go back to the drawing board”, says Lennox Head-based marine scientist, Dr Matt Landos.

“We need to look at why we have so much sediment building up,” he said.

“We have to find ways to keep the top soil on the farms where the farmers can use it.

"It’s time to go right back to square one before we get too excited about dredging, because it’s a very expensive exercise.”

Ballina Fishermen’s Co-op general manager, Phil Hilliard, has also expressed some reservations about dredging in the past.

He told The Northern Star in June that creating a deeper channel would be effective, but that a number of factors needed to be considered.

“The water and sand coming down will scour the river to fill the hole (created by dredging) and that could create an issue for fishermen and marine life,” he said.

“I suggest a survey of the river to find out the high and low spots and to take a direction on which way the sand will go.”

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