For about half a century, the Wangi RSL Club jetty has been jutting into Lake Macquarie, providing support to the boating community, and bringing income to shore for local businesses.
“It’s very important to the community, and it’s one of the most used jetties on the lake,” said Julian Borgert, the secretary of the Wangi RSL Amateur Sailing Club, whose base is on RSL-owned land just near the jetty.
But time and tide have taken their toll on the structure in Wangi Bay.
When Wangi RSL’s treasurer, Ross Ahrens, guided the Herald along the jetty, he pointed out it was a walk through damage and decay. Wooden sheets covered gaps in the deck. A walker recently had a plank give way beneath him, Mr Ahrens said. Cleats had been torn from kick rails, and most of the finger wharves had been blocked off, because they were too dangerous to use. Only a few boats remained in berths that were deemed usable.
“It’s sad, totally sad, Mr Ahrens said as he surveyed the jetty.
The club has had plans into Lake Macquarie City Council to extend and upgrade the jetty. The council has given approval for work on the existing jetty, but Mr Ahrens said “it’s gone beyond repair”.
“You’ve got to rip the whole thing out and do it again,” he said.
Wangi RSL is grappling with how to pay for a new jetty. Mr Ahrens estimated it would cost between $1 million and $1.2 million to build it. The club has had some lean years, and it doesn’t have the money to replace it, so it has been looking at other funding options. It has considered the possibility of an external developer and manager to lease the facility. Another option is government funding through the NSW Boating Now program, which the club is applying for.
But Ross Ahrens said under that funding arrangement, the club would have to come up with 25 per cent, or about $250,000. Which is why he has proposed an accompanying option: to sell the land the sailing club occupies.
The sailing club, which has been a base of Olympic gold medallists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen and the venue for many national regattas, has a 99-year ‘peppercorn’ lease with the RSL, with about 73 years to run. Mr Borgert said the sailing club would like to further secure its future by buying the block, if it became available.
“We’d be looking at it favourably,” he said. “We are in a position [to buy], subject to the price.”
The sailing club is also keen to see the RSL’s jetty replaced. The club’s coaching and rescue boat is berthed there, and the jetty’s finger wharf is heavily used during regattas.
“If the RSL didn’t have a jetty, we’d have to put in temporary berthing,” Mr Borgert said.
Although it was the club’s responsibility to maintain the jetty, it was a community asset, Mr Ahrens said. Boats from all over the lake frequently used it to access the nearby shopping area. However, the income from the jetty, by leasing overnight berths, brought in only about $15,000 annually for the club.
“Is there an equivalent for a single club standing alone and doing it all for a community wharf?,” Mr Ahrens asked.
He said the club had asked Lake Macquarie City Council for financial support, “but the answer was they could not justify three wharves in the one area”. There is a jetty on the southern shore, at Dobell Park, and another in front of Wangi Workers Club, at the head of the bay.
A spokeswoman for the council said it did not provide funding for the improvement of assets it did not own. However, she said the council had advised Wangi RSL on potential funding opportunities and would assist by providing a letter of support for the club’s application to the NSW government.
Julian Borgert argued the council should be more supportive, given how much the general public used the RSL jetty.
“They [the council] can sit back and say it’s an asset of the RSL, but it’s not a private marina with security gate access to it,” he said. “We struggle big time to get anything funded [by the council] down here.”
Ross Ahrens said the club would most likely have to close off the main part of the jetty by the end of March. It would also have to spend about $20,000 to repair an adjoining wharf, so that the boating community still had some access to the shore.
“I think it’s a detriment now, more than an asset,” Mr Ahrens said.
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