Boat ramp access woes for less mobile

Kalaru's Chris Sparks shows the height disparity for jetty users who might want to launch a kayak.
Kalaru's Chris Sparks shows the height disparity for jetty users who might want to launch a kayak.

Kalaru residents welcomed their new boat ramp over Christmas, but one local fisherman said he is now land-locked due to accessibility issues for those with limited mobility.

Disability advocate Chris Sparks said he had lived in Kalaru for more than a decade said he was disheartened to see the updated ramp reduce his access to the lake.

"My wife Wendy and I fell in love with the area, in particular the wonderful waterways that abound the Sapphire Coast", Mr Sparks said. "Wendy loves to fish and I am a keen boatie and kayaker, and that was the main attraction of the lake front block in Kalaru we now call home".

"The old boat ramp allowed us to launch our tinnie and I would park the car, wheel down to the water's edge and head off for a day's fishing."

However, he said the jetty was built at a fixed height he believes will make it impossible to get into the boat, while the boat ramp itself is too steep for typical wheelchair users for direct water access.

Mr Sparks said it was particularly disappointing given his eight-year tenure on the council's Access and Inclusion Committee.

"I'm embarrassed to admit I was the Committee's appointed community member on the Kalaru boat ramp project. I wrote to Council several times in 2018 and 2019 asking to view detailed plans prior to finalisation but I cannot find any record of a response," he said.

fixed height: Chris Sparks' boat docked at the new jetty shows the height challenge wheelchair users face. Picture: supplied.

fixed height: Chris Sparks' boat docked at the new jetty shows the height challenge wheelchair users face. Picture: supplied.

A council spokesperson said they felt for Mr Sparks and accessibility was one of the considerations in the design.

"Equitable access was considered as part of the design of the Blackfellows Lake boat ramp. However, due to the existing terrain of the site, Aboriginal heritage constraints and a narrow footprint within which to work, there were limitations on the access Council could provide to those with limited mobility or using a wheelchair," the spokesperson said.

"All abilities access is a key priority for Council. Incorporating accessibility and inclusivity into Council projects is undertaken wherever possible."

Mr Sparks said he understood the engineering challenges, but still felt a better design could have been implemented. "Those of us with reduced mobility cannot step up or down large distances into a boat or scramble up a ladder. To enjoy the boating freedoms others do, we need either a floating pontoon or multi-level fixed structure such as the old Kianinny facility".

Mr Sparks said he, Access committee chair Ron Finneran and member Sue Thomas had all resigned from their advisory roles with council in November.

"We just reached a point of real frustration trying to improve access outcomes for the Bega Valley."

However, the council spokesperson said efforts were being made to create all-access ramps.

"Council is currently constructing a boat ramp on the Bermagui River which incorporates all abilities access to the pontoon, accessible parking bays and an inclusive picnic setting."

This story Boat ramp access woes for less mobile first appeared on Bega District News.