Whalsay fishermen have come up with an alternative proposal for a new ferry terminal at Symbister which might solve the harbour’s problems and help unite the two sides in the community debate.
The plan involves expanding the existing harbour with a new breakwater to create a safer entrance and more room in the congested voe. It could allow super-ferries easy access, improve safety for all boats and enable the whole pelagic fleet to berth at its home port.
If the idea was to find favour in the isle the main stumbling block could be cost, if it greatly exceeded the £9 million price tag of the two other harbour proposals. Council officials are currently evaluating the basic idea and should have an initial estimate of the cost next week.
It remains to be seen whether the plan sways supporters of an entirely new ferry terminal being built at the undeveloped North Voe nearby, which appears to be favoured by a majority in the isle rather than the previous alternative of squeezing a new ferry pier into the existing harbour without enlarging it.
The potential alternative has been put together by William Polson, mate on the pelagic trawler Charisma, who said he had done drawings based on what others have been saying could be done. He has since been involved in a delegation called to meetings with council officials to thrash out the idea.
The concept is a refinement of one put foward five or six years ago by Adenia skipper George William Anderson which was investigated and adapted by the council to include in the original so-called STAG report on a new ferry terminal.
Although favoured by the fishermen it turned out to be risky and too expensive due to the breakwater and a marshalling area for ferry traffic extending out into water up to 16 metres deep, which would require a vast quantity of rock to build.
The new plan pulls the proposed new breakwater into shallower water, mostly around 11.5 metres but up to 14.5 metres, and avoids the need to dig up the whole of the north breakwater.
The new north-south breakwater would give the harbour a much longer and wider sheltered entrance channel along the head of Saltness and provide an extra level of protection for the potentially £100m-plus fleet inside during wild weather.
Two pelagic boats would be able to dock along the side of the new breakwater, freeing up space in the existing outer dock for a new ferry ramp. This would make ferry skippers’ lives much easier by providing a straight run in, avoiding the tight inner harbour as well as the vicious tide which runs across the existing narrow harbour mouth.
Mr Polson said the same general idea had been the preferred option of the fishermen from day one and he hopes the two main alterations would make it a contender again.
“If it could be cheaper then it might bring it back into the picture because the improvements for the harbour are immeasurable. Everybody in the community can gain from it, as far as I can see. It’s going to be a safer route for the ferries and the whole fleet can get into the harbour.”
The design concept would provide enough space to fit all seven of Whalsay’s deep-draughted pelagic trawlers in the harbour for the first time. Currently two or three have to tie up in Lerwick.
The whitefish fleet would reclaim its old pier, which was effectively commandeered by the ferries, and the small boat marina would be left in peace with room for expansion instead of being buffeted by ferry wash or having to move closer to the beach to provide more room for a new ferry pier.
Mr Anderson said he thought the plan would be to the benefit of everybody in Whalsay rather than building in the shallow and untried North Voe, although he stressed he was not against the North Voe option. He said: “There is room for this development to be looked at and maybe not thrown out so quick as it was the last time.”
SIC head of transport Michael Craigie said onThursday the proposal was “a contender” and the council is taking a “serious and long look” at it. He said there could be considerable engineering challenges in the proposal but added: “On the face of it, it has the potential to address many of the issues that the council is faced with right now.”
He could not hazard a guess at the likely cost at this stage while technical details are being refined and analysed, although he hopes to have a figure early next week.
Mr Craigie will be writing a fresh report on the whole Whalsay harbour issue for the council’s infrastructure committee for its meeting on Tuesday 24th November.