Pondage decision scuppers Sailability

Member for Morwell Russell Northe with Sailability program coordinator Bruce James and local sailing champions Sarah Millsom and Mark Thorpe. photograph hayley mills.

Member for Morwell Russell Northe with Sailability program coordinator Bruce James and local sailing champions Sarah Millsom and Mark Thorpe. photograph hayley mills.

A program to help people with disabilities get out and try sailing is in jeopardy following the closure of Hazelwood pondage to all on-water activities.

The Latrobe Valley Yacht Club's Sailability program had to cancel its upcoming term while ENGIE is investigating integrity issues with the dam wall.

The closure leaves two program members destined for the Hansa Class World Championships in Japan later this year without a training venue. 

Sailability program director Bruce James said participants were disappointed when they learnt the program had been put on ice until the future of the pondage was resolved.

"This program is specially designed for people with disabilities. Hopefully we can get back on the water again in the new year [but] we've had to cancel fourth term until we know what happens," Mr James said.

"The program would have to be held at the pondage if it was to be held anywhere."

The Sailability program engages about 30 people from four special development schools in Traralgon, Warragul, Moe and Leongatha.

It also gives another 38 people from district adult day programs access to all-abilities sailing.

The program ran weekly for 18 years using specially-designed Hansa class dinghies that are more accessible for people who are less mobile.

Mr James said they need at least one metre of water to put the yachts on as well as jetties and special infrastructure to lift people in and out of the vessels.

He said they had initially fundraised $80,000 for facilities at the Hazelwood pondage for the program and a team of 12 volunteers attended each week to lend a hand.

"It's a pathway to sailing. Participants love it – some have kept coming back since it began in 2000. It gives people independence and freedom and it's fun and exciting," Mr James said.

Mr James said the yacht club had met with ENGIE over the future of the pondage but would not know anything until further studies on the wall were completed.

He said they had looked at running the program at Lake Narracan and Blue Rock Dam but a lack of all access infrastructure and water level variability made these

waterways unsuitable.

Member for Morwell Russell Northe has called on the energy minister and the minister for disability and ageing, as well as Latrobe City Council and Sothern Rural Water for short term solutions.

Mr Northe is asking whether the program could be run at Lake Narracan while the future of the pondage was being sorted out.

"It's imperative that this program is continued in the Latrobe Valley and delivering it from Lake Narracan is an option. However, support and assistance is required from various authorities" Mr Northe said.

"Unfortunately, and despite repeated questions to the state government, the future of Hazelwood pondage and user groups such as the Latrobe Valley Yacht Club remain unanswered."

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services said Latrobe City Council was working with a number of user groups to identify suitable short-term alternatives while the waterway is temporarily closed.

An ENGIE spokeswoman said it was waiting for an engineering consultants' report due in September.

"Until then, no decision can be made on the future of the pondage," she said.

"We have met with Latrobe Valley Yacht Club and have offered, where possible, to assist them with relocating infrastructure as they seek a temporary location to continue their programs, such as Sailability."

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