Bomb range fight defused
THE Royal Australian Air Force has suspended plans to increase the use of the Evans Head Weapons Range following pressure from local fishermen.
Chief of the RAAF, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, announced late last night that a review into the future use of the bombing range would be conducted with full community consultation.
“I have directed that further consideration of reactivating the range for air-to-ground gunnery be suspended, pending a total review into future training requirements at Evans Head,” Air Marshal Binskin said.
“The review is examining the detailed range requirements for the Air Force’s new Super Hornets.
“Air Force values its relationship with the Evans Head community. This review will include extensive consultation with local and state authorities, recreational groups and industry in finding a balance between Defence requirements and community needs.”
Air Marshal Binskin said there was no intention to close the Evans Head Weaponry Range as it remained an important training facility supporting Australia’s air combat capability.
“Defence’s highest priority remains the safety of the public and the safe and effective conduct of training,” he said.
As reported previously in The Northern Star, Evans Head professional and recreational fishermen had voiced concerns that Defence had plans to increase its training and use the full extent of the range – which is 2572ha in size, extends 10km out to sea and is 11km at its widest point – which it had not done for some years.
The proposed increase in use was due to the upgrade of RAAF jets from the aging F-111 – which only uses part of the weapons range – to the F-18 Super Hornet which would use the full range.
This would limit the access to rich fishing grounds between North and South Evans Reef, which helps sustain Evans Head economically.
Besides the 22 professional fishermen, the village abounds with hundreds of recreational anglers who boost the tourist trade and many head for the fishing grounds around the reefs.
As an example of the popularity of the area, one Anzac Day more than 250 boat trailers were counted near the boat ramp.
After The Northern Star broke the story, Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin arranged a meeting with Defence Minister John Faulkner in Canberra this week to raise the concerns about the proposed no-go area.
“I welcome the Chief of Air Force’s comments and direction which will give everyone all the time to take stock and talk,” she said.
“I’m sorry this didn’t happen in the first place, but I’m happy it has now.
“I had a sympathetic hearing with the Defence Minister and sometimes things can happen quickly in Canberra.”
Rod Blake, the chairman of the Evans Head Marine Management Committee, was happy with the announcement.
“It’s fantastic news, but there is a long way to go,” he said. “This directly involves the economic viability of Evans Head, so I’m glad there will be community consultation.”
He said Air Marshal Binskin should take a boat tour.
“I’d be happy to show him around,” Mr Blake said.
“He needs to see the area, not from a map in an office, otherwise he’d have no idea what’s going on.”
Evans Head Fisherman’s Co-op spokesman Kevin Aleckson applauded the announcement and said all the stakeholders needed a say.