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20 May, 2021

Access to the Daintree Assured

THE future of the Daintree Ferry has been secured for the long-term as a result of Douglas Shire Council’s decision to purchase the existing ferry and infrastructure.

By Peter McCullagh

At a special council meeting earlier this week, councillors voted to purchase the cable ferry and equipment,

Earlier this year Council conducted extensive community engagement and feedback allowing Shire residents the opportunity to discuss the future options for crossing the Daintree River.

Central to the engagement was a bridge verses the two-ferry river crossing concept.

While the idea of Council buying the vessel was not directly discussed within the scope of the consultation, many residents commented that the vessel should be a Council-owned asset due to it being a critical infrastructure providing an essential service. 

Purchasing the ferry became a real consideration after several attempts to negotiate an extended service with the current contractors did not result in a mutually acceptable position.

Douglas Shire Council will own a ferry asset that can generate revenue and place the Council in a stronger position for the planned two-ferry tendering process, later this year.

Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr said the purchase would secure the crossing for future years.

“Our community living north of the Daintree River has been incredibly patient during this whole process and we look forward to the contractors signing the contract to give everyone confidence for the upcoming tourist season,” he said.

“Before COVID, we could see 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles per month cross the river during our peak tourist season of July to September. That’s tens of thousands of visitors spending money at tourism experiences, cafes, accommodation providers located north of the Daintree River – the same business owners who were hardest hit when visitor access was restricted due to COVID last year.”

“Once acquired, we can continue to progress plans to upgrade land-based infrastructure at the crossing for a second ferry service, which will form part of a re-tendering process later in the year.”

At this point in time, the sale price remains subject to commercial in-confidence with a transparent release of information planned once contracts are signed.

Both Councillor Abigail Noli and Councillor Roy Zammataro opposed the purchase by Council citing concerns regarding the long-term cost to ratepayers.

“Council had several opportunities in the past, to take a different direction regarding the ferry services but elected not to.

“I cannot see how this purchase will not be a burden upon the ratepayer,” stated Councillor Zammataro.

Councillor Noli believes whilst Council owning a ferry is workable, it is not the best outcome.

“It will work because it has to work, but it is not the best solution overall.

“The better solution would have been to sign a 2-ferry tender back in December 2019, when we had the opportunity.

“The second ferry should have been in the water by July 1 of this year, but we have missed out on revenue bought about a COVID boosted local tourism.

This represents a lost opportunity for Council as well as the region,” she said.

The current ferry service generates significant revenues for Council with the purchase of the existing ferry and the infrastructure coming from the Daintree Ferry Reserve and Council’s Capital Works budget.

However, Douglas Shire Mayor, Michael Kerr has commenced discussions with State Member for Cook, Cynthis Lui, seeking financial assistance for the purchase and running costs associated with the ferry service.

For now the single ferry service will continue.

Douglas Council has hired a Project Manager to coordinate upgrades to the land-based infrastructure required for a two-ferry system and a concept design for this project is nearing completion.

Surveyors visited the area last month as part of the feasibility analysis for the northern priority lane.

Relevant approvals and a tender process will need to be undertaken before firm timelines can be finalised.

The Douglas Shire Sustainability Group were approached for their feedback regarding the purchase of the Ferry service. At the time of publication, no response was submitted. However, since sending the pages to the print site. 

The DSSG has submitted the following statement.

Douglas Shire Sustainability Group (DSSG) is relieved that a ferry service will continue to operate across the Daintree River.

“The ferry service is a critical service for residents and visitors alike, and it is recognised as an iconic feature of the Daintree visitor experience.” said Didge McDonald, President.

Like many others, DSSG is disappointed that the situation has resulted in Douglas Shire Council purchasing the ferry - at considerable cost to ratepayers and possibly visitors.

“We have no idea who the new ferry operator will be – we hope that the new operator will continue to employ local people and to offer a reliable and safe passage”.

The Council decisions comes six months after a clear vote 3:1 by residents and ratepayers to retain the two ferry proposal rather than investigate a bridge.

“Our members are disappointed that the negotiation for a ferry contract, including a new solar powered second ferry has taken so long and cost so much money.” said Mr McDonald. “We fear that the delay and costs mean the second solar ferry is now lost to us”.

“Why didn’t Council extend the current ferry contract and proceed with a new solar ferry to relieve congestion? Does this mean the push for a bridge to replace the ferry service is still on the agenda despite overwhelming support for two ferries?

DSSG members would like those issues clarified, and the total cost of the new contract to be revealed as soon as possible.”

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