The state government has been urged to consider changing the route of the Pacific Highway at Ballina to save threatened koala habitat.
A recent study commissioned by Ballina Shire Council shows that a section of the Pacific Highway upgrade takes a large detour into the Blackwall Range, which is home to a nationally significant koala population.
NSW Greens have backed Ballina Cr Jeff Johnson in a united call on the NSW roads minister to pay heed to local community concerns by altering the route.
Cr Johnson said the proposed route ignores the concerns of local residents ‘who have deep concerns about the impacts on the north coast koala populations’.
He said the recent study commissioned by his council identified koalas in the Blackwall Range area as being ‘nationally significant and a key local source population for the entire northern rivers region.
‘The north coast is one of the last refuges of our vulnerable koala populations, this road has the real potential to irreversibly impact their habitat.’
Greens NSW roads and environment spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi said the government ‘is proposing to build a significant deviation of the Pacific Highway straight through some of the last habitats of vulnerable koala populations on the north coast’.
Dr Faruqi said she had written to the ministers for roads, planning and the environment ‘to ensure that there is a sensible resolution to this issue that results in the Pacific Highway being upgraded and precious koala habitat conserved and protected.
‘There is no doubt that the Pacific Highway needs to be upgraded to save lives, but it is entirely possible to do this in a way that minimises the impact on our precious natural areas,’ she said.
‘It is irresponsible and unnecessary to choose the option that runs through some of the largest remaining tracts of bushland and threatened species habitat in the Ballina Shire.
‘The selected route is the longest and most environmentally destructive of all the proposed options.
‘The roads minister needs to listen to the community and upgrade the Pacific Highway in a way that both delivers safety and protects our koalas, which are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the federal government.
‘It seems the only reason for such a sharp deviation from the original Pacific Highway is the opportunity to mine shale from the Blackwall Range.
‘The integrity of precious koala habitat far outweighs the minor economic benefits of mining shale closer to the construction site, shale can be brought in, once our iconic koalas are gone from the area, they will be gone forever.
‘Unfortunately, with the Federal government handing down environmental approval powers to the state, we can expect more of this environmental destruction.
‘It is time this government started realising that our native animals are too precious to lose and that when done within the framework of ecologically sustainable development, we can upgrade transport infrastructure and maintain our environment’, she concluded.