FREEDOM of movement seems particularly important after a year in which most of us were hampered in some way from going where we wanted to go. Spare a thought, then, for the boaties of Lake Macquarie.
Shifting sands at Swansea Channel mean the area, popular with swimmers and fishermen, is off limits to many due to the shallow passage. Many of those in the lake are out of luck, as are visitors who require deeper clearance.
Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie's Howard Elsey describes it as the worst he has seen the problem in a decade.
That he has so long for comparison without a solution, and that it has reached this nadir when domestic tourism is the default for so many, is an unacceptable state of affairs. When an estimated 70 per cent of vessels cannot exit the area without assistance, as the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club's commodore suggests, a solution must be found.
It is a blow to recreation, certainly. But it is also one of economic and reputational damage to Lake Macquarie.
It has also hit charities, with the recent Heaven Can Wait regatta losing both participants and funds to what should be handled as either a matter of either routine maintenance or with a more permanent solution.
Dredging began in October last year after Marine Rescue personnel were being called out daily.
They said it had reached "the point where a lot of vessels that should not be struggling in the channel are struggling".
The death of a contractor added a delay to dredging efforts last year that have dragged on past a supposed Australia Day deadline. As reported today, Transport for NSW is now hopeful the efforts will be concluded by Easter this year.
Rainy days have perhaps clouded how much a glittering jewel this waterway is over the summer that concludes on Sunday. But Swansea MP and deputy NSW Opposition leader Yasmin Catley has been succinct.
"The overdue and intermittent nature of the dredging work just goes to show we need a permanent plan for channel maintenance so that it's safely navigable year round," she said last year. "Yet here we are in mid-February, the dredge has sat idle in Swan Bay for months, and the dredging work has not been done, leaving Marine Rescue to pick up the pieces," she said on February 17.
Andrew Mogg, the acting executive director of NSW Maritime, may well point to two state-funded packages of dredging last year that removed 25,000 cubic metres of sand. In a regional area, such efforts are not unappreciated. Yet the simple fact remains that the problem has outlasted those efforts, and that is the only metric that matters in real terms to those who use, visit and and care about Lake Macquarie.
The problem has not gone away.
It's time to pour serious effort into a long-term fix.