Ballina Marine Rescue goes off the air as tower closes down
JUST build a new tower: That's the simple message from a frustrated Commander John Donoghue of Ballina's Marine Rescue unit.
He did the last shift at the North Wall tower on Monday morning before it was closed permanently on the orders of Marine Rescue Commissioner Stacey Tannos, who said the tower was no longer safe to work in following several serious injuries to volunteers due to the building's ever-increasing lean.
But Cmdr Donoghue said lives were potentially being put at risk as the volunteers move into the adjacent training room without a view of the Richmond River bar.
He said about 85% of boaties crossing the bar will radio or phone in - but that leaves another 15% of boats which the Marine Rescue volunteers need to see.
It's the political games that Cmdr Donoghue is frustrated with, as the money is available to build a new tower.
Ballina Mayor David Wright doesn't want work to start until the entire $2.1m for the total project is pledged - the kitty is $450,000 short, which would fund ancillary works - while the State Government's Roads, Maritime, and Freight Minister Duncan Gay last week accused the council of "playing politics" with the issue.
Ballina MP Tamara Smith has called for the State to fork out more dough, for a staged construction.
The Federal Government hasn't chipped in any money.
"It's a real insult to Marine Rescue," said Cmdr Donoghue. "It's unbelievable."
Cr Wright argued that ratepayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for a State Government asset on Crown land. Cmdr Donoghue wants the politicians to sort out a deal, and do it quickly.
"We don't care about a car park; we care about the safety of boaties and our members," Cmdr Donoghue said.
"Even if work was to start on the building right now, it wouldn't be finished for Christmas."
The lean on the 1983-built tower was first noticed in the late 1990s, and Marine Rescue has been lobbying for a new tower since then.
For the first time in the unit's history, communications will be affected for a few days while volunteers move equipment. Phone calls will be redirected to Evans Head while radio calls will be picked up by Cape Byron.