STUDIES into cliff stability, Aboriginal cultural values and a possible bill of $20 million are in the mix to find a “solution” to deal with problems at The Pillars cliff jumping site at Mount Martha.
Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors last week agreed to hire consultants to report by October after undertaking geotechnical survey and speaking to Traditional Owners about cultural values at the site.
The report will include an assessment of what could be provided to improve safety at The Pillars, such as a boardwalk and viewing platforms, toilets, paths and signs.
The council has also asked the Department of Environment, Land and Water to pay for a study into building a boardwalk “based on the outcomes” of the yet-to-be-undertaken report.
Meanwhile, councillors have decided to “revisit” the second priority of a September 2018 management that dealt with “traffic management and parking restrictions in local streets”.
The shire is keeping secret a legal report into its culpability in the event of injuries being sustained at The Pillars.
Part of last week’s decision also saw the mayor, Cr Despi O’Connor writing to Mornington Liberal MP, David Morris and the Labor Eastern Victoria MP Harriet Shing to advocate “as appropriate” to DELWP and the state government on the shire’s behalf.
Mr Morris will also be asked for the results of a survey he undertook “gauging community views on The Pillars”.
Mr Morris told The News that initial analysis of his survey results showed the highest concerns were parking, pedestrian access and destruction of vegetation. Anti-social behaviour and rubbish were of a lesser concern.
“I’m still irritated that the state government has completely wiped its hands [with the issue] since I raised it in parliament in 2016,” Mr Morris said. The “hand balling” between ministers had been “absolutely despicable”.
“It’s just ridiculous to just leave it to the council. People won’t stop going there, but it needs to be managed so there is zero impact on vegetation and erosion.”
Cr David Gill said that when he was mayor in 2016, he had to speak in favour of fencing off The Pillars even though he had voted against it.
“I voted against it as a waste of money … and [tonight’s decision] is going to lead to another waste of money,” he said.
“Seriously, what are we voting for? A site to be used by tourists jumping into water where there are rocks.
“The risks are not going to go away, and it will be the council and ratepayers who pay.”
He later told The News that his estimate of $20 million for infrastructure was based on numerous officers’ reports to council.
“I want this to be finished. I want this to be not the site that some people want it to be because of the way it’s put out there on social media. This has to stop, and it should stop now.”
Cr Steve Holland said the previous four years had not been wasted and the consultant’s report now being commissioned would arrive in time to “review protecting the amenity of residents” before summer.
He said council needed to know what was possible for The Pillars and how much it was likely to cost.
Cr Anthony Marsh, who successfully moved for the report and correspondence with state politicians, said most councillors had been in council for six months “so any history, sorry Cr Gill, but that’s on your watch”.
“This is not a silver bullet but is asking for more information to come back … we have to do something.
“It’s not good enough to say ‘well, this is not going to get anywhere’.”
In a report to council’s 1 June meeting (held online due to the latest coronavirus lockdown) coastal planner Laura Crilly described The Pillars as having “a complex set of issues to which there is no simple management solution”.
The number of visitors to the cliff jumping site had “exploded” in 2016 as a result of its location being shared on social media and the internet.
The popularity of The Pillars also resulted in a series of reports and actions designed to manage the problems, including a fence along a section of the Esplanade, blocking access tracks, signs, parking restrictions, patrols by police (who refused to clamber over the fence) and council rangers.
Work has also been started to protect areas of “indigenous cultural sensitivity”.
The $180,000 fence was erected in December 2018 and removed in May 2019, amid safety concerns for motorists and pedestrians which were later backed up by legal advice.
However, over summer crowds – some drunk – had continued to descend on The Pillars leaving a trail of “distressed residents with reduced amenity and wellbeing”, litter and illegal parking (241 vehicles booked in two months) as well as safety concerns for the cliff jumpers, and drivers and pedestrians on the Esplanade.
Ms Crilly said police responded to four “reportable incidents” and the Country Fire Authority attended five incidents.