MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire rangers spent summer warning dog owners off a beach at Mt Martha even though the 80 metre strip of sand is a leash-free area.
The rangers visited the beach more than 40 times, telling dog owners it was a no-go zone for their pets.
The shire has now admitted that the southern end of the leash-free Hawker Beach begins at the beach access stairs at the end of a track off the Esplanade between Augusta and Helena Streets.
At one stage shire rangers displayed a large “Dogs prohibited in this area” sign at the top of the track.
However, the shire will not be apologising to dog owners ordered off the beach and has not explained how the mix-up occurred.
A similar location problem occurred when the shire provided a diagram of where it said dog signs were located at Mt Martha North Beach. However, the diagram was based on an aerial photo of Mt Martha South Beach.
Environment protection manager John Rankine last week confirmed that leash-free Hawker Beach extends north from the beach access steps.
The admission follows requests from The News for the shire to clarify the leash-free area.
The requests have included a photograph of “Leash-free” signs erected several times near the beach access steps and, last week, a copy of a Marine Safety Victoria chart which clearly shows Hawker Beach ending between Alice and Augusta streets – much further south than the area policed so avidly by the shire rangers.
“Throughout the summer period officers attended the area around the bathing boxes (south of Augusta Street) following complaints received of dogs not being controlled,” Mr Rankine told The News in an emailed response last week.
“This area was signed showing dogs are prohibited during daylight saving time. This area adjoins the off-leash area.
“However, this area is not gazetted to be prohibited during the summer period, so shire rangers educated residents by advising owners to head north towards the cliff face where the off leash area is located.
“No enforcement action was taken at Hawker Beach.”
Dog owners who contacted The News said they were on the beach north of the access steps when confronted by rangers, not the degraded beach in front of the beach boxes.
Although that area of beach is officially closed due to erosion and collapsing cliffs, it appears the rangers did not “educate” anyone near or in the beach boxes about this fact.
Mr Rankine said the shire is reviewing designated “off-leash areas and prohibited areas”.
“The shire is also re-looking at the signage in the area to clearly stipulate where dogs are required on leash,” he said.
“Review of designated off-leash areas and prohibited areas is required.”
After further inquiries by The News, Mr Rankine on Friday said signs at the bottom of the stairs “will be rectified to state that dogs are required on leash heading towards the beach boxes and dogs are allowed to be off leash heading towards the cliff face”.
“We are working to replace the signage in the area as soon as possible so that it is more clear for local residents and visitors,” he said.