OPINION: Location key to unlocking lagoon blue
WHILE there’s still plenty to thrash out in terms of the long-term viability of a swimming lagoon in Port Douglas, the response to a Newsport article asking if it was time to revisit the idea was an overwhelming ‘yes’.
Clearly this is not a new topic for Port Douglas. The merit of a swimming lagoon has been passionately debated ever since Airlie Beach, a town of similar size and tourist scope, finished building one back in 2001. That was a culmination of more than 20 years of pressure from the Whitsunday’s community desperate to combat those pesky stingers (never mind crocodiles).
Some would argue the Port Douglas conversation started as far back as the late 1970s with the establishment of the town's first 'safe' designated swimming area at Stinger Park. The rock pool was eventually filled in, rumoured to be ineffective against stingers, to form Rex Smeal Park.
In Airlie Beach, a campaign Loot for the Lagoon began in the early 90’s and was fundamental to its success. The catch cry became common around town as the public and local businesses combined to support the now famous lagoon. But, like the outcome of the recent Newsport article suggests, there was also a vocal minority dead against the idea.
“Stick to pools or fresh water swimming holes,” many say. “A lagoon will attract more backpackers to Port Douglas,” is a common theme, and probably the most unreasonable. I’m not sure how enticing younger visitors, both international and domestic, to stay a little longer can be a bad thing?
The ‘it will cost too much’ concern is a legitimate one. There’s no doubt a public lagoon isn’t cheap. Construction would be upwards of $15 million according to estimates, and there are hefty annual operating costs on top of that.
But do the ends justify the means?
Perhaps the first step in answering that is deciding where to put the bloody thing.
Location was the main stumbling block six years ago when a lagoon first got the green light as part of the Port Douglas Waterfront Master Plan. In fact, Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu believes the State and Federal Government seized on ‘perceived community opposition’ to a preferred site as a reason for not supporting the multi million-dollar investment.
Leu and Federal MP Warren Entsch actually turned the first sod for a lagoon’s construction at Rex Smeal Park in November of 2010. What happened?
Other sites put forward were Jalunbu Park near the Port Douglas Esplanade, and the carpark adjacent to the St Mary’s Church. Would they be viable now?
So before diving head first (pardon the pun) into assessing, again, whether a lagoon should leapfrog other infrastructure priorities across the Shire - such as the Daintree Gateway, the Flagstaff Hill Walking Trail or Water Reservoir – maybe settling on a suitable location should be the first stop.
The rest might fall into place.
Where is the best location for a swimming lagoon in Port Douglas? Tell us in the comments below!