The barge landing allows supplies to be delivered by boat during the wet season. (Supplied: Mark Coddington)
A $530,000 taxpayer-funded upgrade of the Maningrida barge landing has made the infrastructure more difficult to use and could put lives at risk in an emergency, locals fear.
“It’s gone from bad to worse,” West Arnhem Regional Council Mayor Matthew Ryan said.
“The Government has given heaps of money to upgrade the barge landing, and they give it to some of the contractors [who] just do more damage than previous years, rather than improve it.”
The Mayor said the bungled upgrade was another example of taxpayer money failing to deliver improvements to bush communities.
Late last year, the ABC revealed Maningrida’s new $625,000 morgue had been rendered unusable because of a design fault that meant bodies could not be safely loaded into refrigerated trays.
The barge landing is a vital piece of infrastructure that allows groceries and building supplies to be delivered by boat when wet season rains make road transport impossible.
But a range of stakeholders — including the council, an Aboriginal corporation, a barge operator and a tour company — say the upgrades have made the already-inadequate infrastructure even worse.
Shaun Taylor, who runs the Arnhem Land Barramundi Lodge, said the barge landing was now several metres shorter, reducing the amount of time he can launch tour boats during low tides.
“We were rapt to hear of an upgrade and the ramp being redone and then only to be disappointed at the end when it actually put us in a worse position than with the old one,” Mr Taylor said.
‘I’d hate to have someone die on me’
Police are also concerned about the safety of the barge landing, the ABC understands.
Mr Taylor said he shared their concerns.
“If you have an emergency, or someone dying, or even in a cyclone watch something like that happens, there’s every chance that you don’t have the ability to retrieve your boats if it’s at the wrong stage of tide … you can be stuck out there,” he said.
“I’d hate to have someone die on me because the ramp wasn’t adequate to get a boat out.”
As well as being too short, Mr Taylor said the contractors had initially failed to put texture grooves on parts of the concrete surface, making the barge landing dangerously slippery.
“They’ve attempted to do it with a concrete saw, and given up half way through, and it quickly became like an ice skating rink,” he said.
Barge Express, which runs services across the Top End, said most of the region’s barge landings were in dire need of improvement.
“Some barge landings are full of potholes, or not strong enough to handle heavy machinery to traverse across,” the company’s shipping manager Ben Floyd said.
“Or [they] require water blasting to remove marine growth, which causes slippery conditions.”
The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics said the most recent upgrade at Maningrida was the first stage of a two-part process.
The department said $2 million would eventually be spent on extending and widening the barge landing, but it could not say when stage two would be completed.