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Grounded: Coast Guard and boaties left reeling after passage plea is dismissed

The Pumicestone Passage is choked with sand at low tide.

Posted on October 26, 2022

A renewed plea to dredge a well-used waterway has been rejected, essentially leaving the Coast Guard and other boaties stranded.

Community groups met with levels of government on Friday, to discuss a build-up of sand in the Pumicestone Passage, caused by a tidal breakthrough at Bribie Island in January.

Caloundra Coast Guard, Take Action for Pumicestone Passage, Friends of Pumicestone Passage, Ithaca-Caloundra City Life Saving Club, Caloundra Cruise, Bill’s Boat Hire and Henzells real estate agency were among the groups to meet with Sunshine Coast Council, Maritime Safety Queensland, hydrologists and Member for Caloundra Jason Hunt.

A request for dredging was denied by the State Government in June and the recent appeal led to the same result.

Sunshine Coast News is collating old photos of the passage, to document its change over time. If you have any photos that you’d like to submit, send to news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au.

Caloundra Coast Guard commander Roger Pearce said it was a blow that affected their ability to access the ocean at low tide.

“I’m very disappointed, from a safety perspective, in trying to get our vessels to sea 24/7,” he said.

“I’m very disappointed that they weren’t prepared to at least consider giving it a go.”

Caloundra Coast Guard headquarters, marked by the pin, is blocked in at low tide.

He said they had run out of options.

“We aren’t able to get to sea and the community has to put up with not being able to get into Caloundra, at low tide,” he said.

“As summer comes, there will be more backlash (when more people try to go boating).”

Caloundra Coast Guard commander Roger Pearce.

Mr Pearce said they were told dredging would be too expensive and inefficient.

“We were told it would cost about $50,000 to get a dredge in and out for a dredge session, and about $3000 a day to run it,” he said.

“We didn’t see that as a major expense to open up the passage, but the view of MSQ, and the advice from their hydrologists, was that it just wouldn’t be possible.”

But Mr Pearce believed it was worth trying to dredge in the passage’s ‘secondary channel’, which he said had a reputation for being more stable.

Mr Pearce also said the local water quality could be affected without dredging, due to the reduced water movement in the passage.

Caloundra Cruise owner Rose McBride said the build-up of sand affected their operations.

“It’s a shame we can’t come into Caloundra,” she said.

“We have an alternate route just to keep our business going.

“The new entrance (breakthrough at Bribie Island) is spectacular but it’s certainly not good news for people who want to traverse the water, into Bulcock Beach (at Caloundra).

Ms McBride said the elements could yet restore order.

“Who knows, we might have a big cyclone around Christmas and our problems might be solved.”

The breakthrough and the spit that’s formed across the passage, from the island towards Golden Beach.

MSQ General Manager Kell Dillon said dredging could be futile.

“Given the dynamic nature of the environment, particularly with the change in wave action following winter (moving more south-easterly), any works such as dredging carries a high risk of sand refilling the works in a short time,” he said.

“On this basis, no works are recommended until a clear understanding of the likely outcome is known.

“There are a few potential outcomes in the short and long term for the passage and the old northern entrance.

“These will greatly influence the waterway access in the passage and whether a deeper channel will form and stay open connecting north and south.”

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