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18 December, 2020

Man arrested for digging sand

Last Sunday a Holloways Beach man refused to take his spade home and stop playing in the sand at the beach, much to the angst of a construction worker who came to stomp on his excavations and the local police who proceeded to arrest him.

By Tanya Murphy

Matt Male was among Holloways Beach locals attempting to dig a channel in the sand between Barr Creek and the ocean when he was arrested on Sunday December 13.

Cairns Regional Council contracted Davbridge Construction to begin building a pedestrian and cycling path over the creek in September, and placed signs stating that it is prohibited for anyone to dig a channel between the creek and the ocean. They also placed a surveillance camera.

According to conditions of approval placed on the project by the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA), bridge construction would have to be delayed until February if river flow is re-established, “to minimise the impacts on fish migration, fish spawning and the flowering and fruiting of marine plants.”

Unaware of this, Mr Male said the group of locals just wanted to let some water in to refresh the declared fish habitat and keep the fish alive, as it was starting to stagnate and smell.

“The creek has been blocked off by sand build-up for months, and myself and quite a few other locals were a bit worried about it being blocked off for so long.

“One of us placed a peg in the creek which showed over the weeks that it was steadily retreating, showing that it was not being replenished by rain or high tides.

“Quite a few of us emailed council several times asking for it to be opened up, but when this was unsuccessful we decided to go down with shovels and open it up ourselves.

“The last time a few years back when it was blocked off for too long during summer months, it absolutely reeked and dead fish were starting to pop up floating on the water, so we got together with kids and families and dug a channel, and nobody got arrested for it back then.”

After several hours’ digging on Saturday night and Sunday morning, the channel of approximately 50 metres in length was almost complete when the Davbridge Project manager appeared on the scene and called the police.

“The Davbridge Project manager came and told us to stop, and started trying to fill in the trench by stomping down the walls,” said Mr Male.

“I said, what’s illegal about digging in the sand? And the police put handcuffs on me and took me to the watch house in the city.

“After about an hour they released me because they couldn’t figure out how to charge me with anything. What would they charge me with? Wilful damage to beach sand?

“I’m surprised they were so heavy handed about it considering locals have opened up the channel in the past with no problems.”

Cairns Regional Council General Manager of Infrastructure Services Bruce Gardiner said the creek was a natural waterway and it was natural for the creek mouth to close during dry periods and open when freshwater flows or sea conditions allowed.

“While the State Government has responsibility for the management of waterways, with the bridge construction underway, Council officers have been monitoring the condition of the waterway,” he said.

“Observations last week indicated that the aquatic life was not in distress, which is one visual indicator used to assess the health of a waterway.

“Council does have a permit to allow it to undertake works at the creek mouth, however several trigger criteria must be met before these can be used and these conditions have not been observed.

“During discussions with State agencies, the consensus was that the creek should be left to open or close naturally based on weather and local conditions.”

Mr Male said this hands-off approach was unusual since council regularly opened other creeks and carried out sand-moving works in the Northern Beaches.

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