Little Beach boat ramp woes prompt call for Port Stephens Council to act

Bogged cars and trailers, smoking tyres and burnt clutches have become the bugbears of boaties at Little Beach boat ramp and they've had enough.

These frequent users say the ramp is too often covered in sand despite regular maintenance from Port Stephens Council.

Worse, their trailers drop off the end of the concrete pad because the  ramp is "too short" to reach deep water at low tide.

"We hear stories all the time of people almost losing their cars," Stephen Alta of Salamander Bay said.

"There's a lot of ramp rage and children watching on.”

The council has set aside $250,000 toward a fix in the 2018-19 financial year and has begun discussions with Roads and Maritime Services to jointly build a better ramp.

HAVE A GO: Little Beach boat ramp users gathered last week to discuss how to bring about better facilities from Port Stephens Council. Picture: Sam Norris

HAVE A GO: Little Beach boat ramp users gathered last week to discuss how to bring about better facilities from Port Stephens Council. Picture: Sam Norris

It can't happen soon enough for Kane Hartcher of the Newcastle Port Stephens Game Fish Club. Mr Hartcher regularly drives down from his home at Kersley to launch his seven-metre boat at Little Beach.

He established the Facebook page ‘I got bogged at Little Beach boat ramp’ a week ago and has already gathered 500 likes.

"People sit out the front of their units in their fold-out chairs drinking, laughing and making these videos but its actually very dangerous," he said.

"It's only a matter of time before somebody is badly hurt."

Videos taken at Little Beach show how fellow boaties and good Samaritans help push the bogged vehicles at risk of being run over by the trailer if the car or four-wheel-drive should leap forward.

But that's not the end of their worries. These ramp users want a general overhaul of facilities at Little Beach.

On their wish list is a pontoon that would rise and fall with the tides, to replace the timber jetty.

"At low tide, it's a 2.5 metre drop from the jetty to the water," Mr Hartcher said.

"We've got the best game fishing on the east coast just outside the heads. We've got to start managing this facility better."

Cr John Nell pledged to pledged to have the boat ramp upgraded at the September election.

He said the issue boils down to two factors.

"For anything to happen council will need to get a government grant and we'll need Marine Parks' approval," he said.

He said the $250,000 kitty wouldn't be enough on its own.

"We've got a consultancy report but the next step is to submit an application for a grant."

Fishing columnist John "Stinker" Clark said the facility's users were "fed up" after 20 years of inaction.

"This is the best chance we've had to fix this," he said.

"Everyone's sick of sitting around waiting. If it's going to cost $1 million, $2 million or even $5 million, it has to be done."

Mr Clark said a new ramp protected by an 'L-shape' pontoon might be one option.

"I'm no expert, this is just my idea from my many years of experience," he said.

"A design like this would provide good shelter from the westerlies."

The council’s community and recreation coordinator Brock Lamont said the project’s scope would depend on the budget and access to grants.

“The preferred option discussed to date is an extended, elevated ramp to allow sand to move underneath the ramp,” he said.

Consultation with key user groups will be undertaken during the detailed design stage of the project once funding has been secured.

Brock Lamont - Port Stephens Council

Mr Lamont said the need for maintenance at Little Beach varied with the seasons and waterway conditions. He said this maintenance came from an annual $50,000 budget for all of Port’s boat ramps.

“It is important to note that new infrastructure will not solve the issues with sand movement in the area,” Mr Lamont said.

“Sand builds up at the western end of Shoal Bay and once it reaches capacity, the sand is swept around the headland, depositing at Little Beach.” 

Just how the council will fund this long term is “under investigation”.

As for the floating pontoon the council said there was little scope.

“Marine Parks have not been supportive of a floating pontoon structure within the Marine Park,” Mr Lamont said.

“The site is also subject to periods of high wave movement, which is not conducive to floating pontoon use.”

Until its fixed Mr Alta said people would instead travel to Soldiers Point in overwhelming numbers.

“We saw it at the October long weekend where there was a huge line of trailers,” he said.

“There were guys swearing at one another and children watching.”