Freo faces $1.8m bill for crumbling cliffs

Cap in hand to state and feds

FREMANTLE council adopted a $1.8 million plan to stabilise the cliffs around the historic Round House and Whalers Tunnel this week.

But the council will have to go cap in hand to the state and federal governments after acknowledging it doesn’t have the funds to complete the work itself.

Mayor Brad Pettitt said the Arthur Head precinct was one of WA’s premier heritage sites, with the Round House the oldest public building in the state.

“The City of Fremantle has continued to carry out routine maintenance at Arthur Head as part of our normal operating budget, but a project of this scale to address erosion that has occurred over a number of decades goes above and beyond what would be expected of a local government,” Dr Pettitt said.

“Given this is a site of state and national historical significance, and there is a risk to public safety, we would expect both the state and federal governments to make a contribution to these important conservation works.”

A report on the cliffs by Hocking Heritage Studio has recommended the council extend a canopy from the beach end of the tunnel to prevent rocks from falling on tourists.

Rock falls

Rock falls have become an almost daily occurrence around the site and the council has been forced to fence off additional sections as chunks the size of a football come crashing down.

Last year the council temporarily closed the tunnel and fenced off paths around the base of the cliffs after a geotechnical report found the risk to pedestrians was too great.

Hocking’s report also suggested spraying the limestone surface of the cliffs with an Australian-developed technology called CIPS, or Calcite in situ precipitation system. Developed by the CSIRO to help stabilise offshore gas and oil platforms, CIPS mimics natural processes that turn loose sediments into sandstone and limestone. But while mother nature takes millennia to pull off this trick, CIPS can do it in just a couple of days.

The council will also extend the retaining wall along the railway line and repair masonry walls along the periphery of the site, while the Round House itself is in need of stabilising after significant weathering has affected its integrity.

The issue has also made strange bedfellows of former sparring partners.

The Fremantle Inner City Residents Association has been in talks with city ward councillor Rachel Pemberton to work together on a community campaign targeting the state and federal governments, although their relationship has been strained in the past over the council’s support for a tavern at the J-Shed.

FICRA spokesperson Maryrose Baker told the Herald she wanted the council to further investigate the impact on freight trains on the cliffs, as they pass by within metres each day and night, although the council’s geotechnical expert said it’s unlikely the do much more than damage some of the closest man-made walls.

by STEVE GRANT

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