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Lower Portland Ferry to Stop Operating During Peak Bushfire Season
The Lower Portland Ferry will be out of operation for 12 weeks from mid-January – in peak bushfire season – forcing residents and visitors to take detours after Hawkesbury City Council (HCC) failed to organise a replacement ferry.
The lengthy gap in ferry services will affect emergency services, school children and local businesses many of whom rely on school holiday tourism.HCC said the ferry must undergo an out-of-water service to retain its commercial license for operating a public service due to Australian Maritime Safety Regulations.
Yet the council has been aware that regular maintenance is required and has known that the next round was due since it was last serviced in October 2019. At the time, that was described as a once-every-three years service.
HCC said it had “endeavoured to source a replacement ferry to allow the connection to remain open during the service, however Transport for NSW has advised that a suitable replacement is not available.”
The lack of a replacement ferry is the latest fumble in the saga of the mis-mangement of the Lower Portland Ferry, which is co-funded with the Hills Council but managed by HCC. In late July this year, HCC scrambled to extend the contract of the operator Tono Group, according to documents obtained by the Hawkesbury Post under freedom of information (GIPA) legislation. This has increased the financial burden on ratepayers in the Hawkesbury and Hills LGAs.
HCC Mayor Sarah McMahon defended the council’s failure to ensure ongoing ferry services for the community and valuable tourist travellers. “The Lower Portland Ferry is a critical link between the Hawkesbury and The Hills for many residents. These works are essential to ensure the ferry remains safe and reliable,” she said.
After receiving questions from the Hawkesbury Post, prompted by residents’ concerns, the HCC issued a statement that said that maintenance originally planned for October would now take place from January 15.
HCC General Manager Elizabeth Richardson said: “The current license is set to expire on April 28, 2024. As such, Council is not in breach of any agreements or Schedules.”