Rallying cry for protecting Boston Bay made on Port Lincoln foreshore

HANDS OFF: Senator Rex Patrick proudly shows his support for Hands off Boston Bay alongside concerned locals (from left) Shane Hodgens, Mark Andrews, Kirsten Rough and Andrew Puglisi. Photo: Jarrad Delaney
HANDS OFF: Senator Rex Patrick proudly shows his support for Hands off Boston Bay alongside concerned locals (from left) Shane Hodgens, Mark Andrews, Kirsten Rough and Andrew Puglisi. Photo: Jarrad Delaney

People rallying against a desalination plant at Billy Lights Point have urged the community to maintain pressure on the state government and SA Water even as plans have been put on hold for 12 months.

About 300 people gathered on the Port Lincoln foreshore on Saturday for the 'Hands Off Boston Bay' information day which included business, political and scientific arguments about why the proposed plant should not be located within Boston or Proper bays.

There has been increased concern about the effect a plant at Billy Lights Point would have on the local aquaculture industry and the ripple effect it would have on the community and economy.

This was also seen with a group of fishing boats in the bay showing their support for the Hands Off Boston Bay movement.

Claire Webber was one of the organisers of the event and said it was a great turnout which showed how many people within the community supported a desalination plant located in the region, but were against it being located within the local bay areas.

"The Port Lincoln community is very active and like to educate themselves on all sorts of issues, especially one as important as the health of our bays," she said.

The day before the event Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs announced the desalination plant plan would be put on hold for 12 months as the state government and SA Water collected more scientific data and conduct further community consultation.

However federal Independent Senator for South Australia Rex Patrick has warned people not to relent as there was the risk the government would wait until after the state election before progressing with plans.

Mr Patrick also showed his support for the cause, stripping off his shirt and jacket to reveal a 'Hands Off Boston Bay' t-shirt that some in the crowd were also wearing during the day.

"We are four months away from a state election, probably six from a federal election, this is the point in time where you have the most democratic power, in terms of what you normally have, it's at this time," he said.

"They are shifting the problem past the election, don't think for a moment that they've given up on the site at Billy Lights Point.

"What you need to make sure happens is the state government needs to make an announcement before the election, or else your battle is lost."

Mr Patrick said pressure needed to be applied as well to Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey and Liberal candidate for Flinders Sam Telfer to push for a commitment to move the plant away from Billy Lights Point.

Local tuna industry representative Hagen Stehr also shared his political criticism and said people in the community needed to take a stand together to ensure decisions were not just made by people in Adelaide.

He said aquaculture and seafood industries including tuna, mussels, kingfish and abalone were dependent on the clean waters of Boston Bay and there should be done to affect this.

"When I cam to Port Lincoln many years ago, we hardly had a professional fishing sector...look at it today, now in 2021 we are the largest fishing port in the nation and the mecca for recreational fishers, all sectors directly dependent on clean water from Boston Bay," he said.

"If Port Lincoln wants a vibrant seafood sector and stay a major exporter, do not gamble with its fundamentals and its fundamentals the way I see it, over the last 50 or 60 years has been bloody fishing, I know there's farming also, but fishing has been the main one.

"Politicians and public servants come and go, but you and I are here to stay, don't let anyone dictate to us what is right for Port Lincoln."

Mr Telfer attended the rally and said he had long called for a climate-independent water supply for the region and he had argued to SA Water and Mr Speirs about how important water was for Eyre Peninsula and that the right steps be made.

He said after the option for Sleaford fell through it was important to explore all options for the desalination plant as it was important that more time was not lost exploring a plant location.

"Throughout this whole process what I've been fighting for has been to ensure the local perspective is heard," he said.

"From the very beginning, we said 'hang on a second, we've just lost two years of process by looking at Sleaford'...we know as locals that our water supply is under significant stress, we can't lose another two years."

Mr Telfer said the announcement of a pause on the plant plan no doubt drew skepticism, but it meant it was a process that would be led by government instead of SA Water and locals would make sure it was providing direction.

He said a project could not be driven by convenience or cost effectiveness, it needed to be made to suit the people of Eyre Peninsula.

In his announcement on Friday, Mr Speirs said the pause would allow for additional baseline monitoring and more detailed assessments to be provided on Billy Lights Point and alternative sites.

"This will be led by government and include the appointment of an independent third-party community engagement expert, with input from SA Water," he said.

"The Marshall Liberal Government takes water security across the state very seriously and we are committed to improving South Australians access to this important resource."

However for the organisers of Hands Off Boston Bay this was not the end and Ms Webber said they would continue to apply pressure until the government would announce a different location for the plant.

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This story Hands off: Fight for Boston Bay only getting started first appeared on Port Lincoln Times.