The federal government has put the developers of the proposed Kings Forest township on notice that they must do all they can to protect koalas and an endangered frog species on the Tweed Coast site from the impact of the massive development.
Koala campaigners have welcomed the intervention by the project to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, which has now declared the 4,500-home estate a ‘controlled action’, meaning the project is likely to have a major impact on listed nationally significant and vulnerable species there of koalas and the Wallum Sedge Frog, as well as an endangered littoral rainforest.
The extra layer of protection allows for federal government oversight of developer Leda’s ecological management plans for the 870-hectare site adjoining Cudgen Nature Reserve.
It follows last year’s federal listing of the koala as a vulnerable species in NSW, Queensland and the ACT under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, which means development impacting on koalas must now be referred and considered by environment minister Tony Burke before it can proceed.
Last month, Tweed Shire Council urged state planners to defer approval of the first stage of the project for the first 442 homes until a long-awaited koala plan of management has been finalised.
The move aims to give the dwindling koala population of around 140 animals on the Tweed Coast a fighting chance of survival while massive earthworks and land clearing takes place for the project which also will eventually include two primary schools, a golf course and a town centre.
Many of the koalas live near or around the development site.
Team Koala president Jenny Hayes told Echonetdaily she hoped federal government involvement would help improve management of koalas in and around the environmentally-sensitive site.
Leda spokesman Reg Van Rij said that under the EPBC Act, the developer has to provide a range of reports on the listed species likely toi be impacted by the development.
Mr Van Rij told Echonetdaily that ‘once Canberra is satisfied with it’, the reports have to go on public exhibition.
‘The Federal assessment is of no surprise to us, indeed we attempted to have their process run concurrently with the state exhibit earlier this year. We are now addressing their matters in the usual way,’ he said.
Koala campaigner Joan Vickers said the controlled action meant ‘another layer of protection for koalas and wallum sedge frogs in Kings Forest, and possibly in the adjacent Cudgen Nature Reserve as well’.
‘For example, the decision to allow dogs in Kings Forest may have to be re-assessed, because dogs are likely to have a significant impact on the koala population. Illegal clearing, or suspicious fires which significantly impact koalas, wallum sedge frogs or the littoral rainforest could be punishable by up to $550,000 for an individual or $5.5 million for a corporation,’ Ms Vickers said.
In late 2010, a huge swathe of a protected creekbank in Cudgen Nature Reserve next to the development was illegally cleared by bulldozers.
The issue was raised in state parliament where environment minister Robyn Parker said Leda had admitted the clearing was ‘accidental’.
However, an investigation into the incident is still ongoing, according to a spokesman for the Office of Environment and Heritage, a response repeated all last year.
Ms Vickers said said it was likely earthworks and clearing impacts would be significant for koalas and Wallum Sedge Frogs species.
As a result of the federal referral, all documents describing the project, its impacts and mitigation measures have to be made available for public comment.
Ms Vickers said that ‘Tweed residents will have one more chance to voice their concerns about dogs in the new township, koala corridors, koala fencing, population recovery and koala food trees’.
In the report on the referral, Leda’s ecological consultant James Warren and Associates had considered ‘no controlled action was necessary’ because under its management plans, ‘th’gere will be no significant impact on any species listed in the EPBC Act’.
The federal environment department has made available information about the listing and the referral process at: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species/koala.html