Lennox Head based Liberal MP Catherine Cusack has added her voice to the chorus of disapproval at the Roads and Maritime Services’ (RMS) preferred route for the Wardell bypass, which threatens three intact koala colonies.
In a speech to the NSW upper house on Wednesday, Ms Cusack castigated the RMS for its plans to destroy the nationally significant koala colony, saying, ‘no effort has been made to modify route option 2F [its preferred route] in the wake of community opinion or the new Ballina bypass techonology.’
She did not mince words about the plan, the costings of which she said were nine years old, and took her own government to task over its steadfast refusal to intervene over the route.
‘In my view, pushing a four-lane motorway through our region’s largest, healthiest koala colony, likely triggering a local extinction event in Ballina and Lismore, falls below community expectations of government,’ Ms Cusack told the house.
She said RMS’s community consultation was a sham, its own koala study had been supressed and the detailed submissions of affected residents had been ignored.
‘Having attended the consultation at Wardell a year ago, I believed six options were being considered, but it has become apparent that in fact only one route, the koala colony, has been properly developed,’ Ms Cusack said.
She added that as far as the other options were concerned, ‘all the route costings are dated 2006 and take no account of the new tchnologies developed for the construction of the Ballina bypass.
Ms Cusack said that the RMS bought up houses along its ‘preferred route’ even before the community consultations commenced.
The houses were now becoming derelict and many were rented to owners of large dogs who ‘seemingly have no awareness of the impact their animals are having on the koalas.’
‘Roads and Maritime Services does not seem to be a responsible landlord in terms of koala awareness and care,’ she told the house.
Ms Cusack described the area as ‘one of the best tracts of native vegetation left in [Ballina] Shire, and is remarkably free of the camphor laurel invasion that afflicts much of our region.
‘This area is also home to many endangered and vulnerable species including the long-nosed potoroo.
She went on to refer to the Biolink report, commissioned by RMS, which described the area as, ‘likely to be nationally significant as the historical source population for koalas both in adjoining areas of the Lismore LGA and the lower lying areas of the Byron coast to the north.’
Ms Cusack told parliament she had visited the area last week, which is regularly used as a realease site for injured and orphaned koalas after treatment by Lismore group Friends of the Koala.
‘Sadly many injured or blind koalas that cannot be re-released must be euthanised. However orphaned baby koalas that have a good chance of survival can be re-released.
‘The only area south of Lismore where these soft releases can take place is… where Roads and Maritime Services plans to build a four-lane freeway, a truck stop and a heavy vehicle inspection centre.
She said the RMS must go back to the drawing board and look at building the new highway through the existing corridor.
‘The community has repeatedly asked for a route to be developed along the existing corridor, which would avoid all these problems. This request has never been addressed.
‘The claim that the community has been consulted is doubtful. The detailed submissions of Blackwall Range residents have never had a response,’ she said.