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Byron Shire
March 8, 2021

Tweed waterway pollution blamed on earthworks

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Susie Hearder can still manage to smile despite her heartbreak at seeing the creek running through her property polluted with tonnes of mud due to runoff from earthworks on the upstream property.
Susie Hearder can still manage to smile despite her heartbreak at seeing the creek running through her property polluted with tonnes of mud due to runoff from earthworks on the upstream property.

Luis Feliu

Major earthworks on a property at Limpinwood in the Tweed Valley, followed by last week’s heavy rains that washed tonnes of soil into a nearby waterway, have been described as an ‘ecological disaster’.

Tweed Shire Council recently fined the Boormans Road landowner $1,500 for unauthorised earthworks on the property, where a bulldozer and other heavy equipment is being used to build a road and house pads.

But downstream neighbour Susie Hearder claims further bulldozing and excavation since the fine, followed by the downpour, had polluted the creek and ruined the entrance to her property.

Ms Hearder, who has dedicated most of her property to conservation, says the tonnes of red silt that drained into Hopping Dick Creek had also wiped out vital habitat for platypus and frogs that abounded there.

She said she first complained to Council and the NSW Office of Water about the massive excavation and road-building work at the property seven months ago but ‘nothing has been done’ and earthworks had continued almost daily since then.

The longtime bush regenerator said last week’s heavy rain exacerbated the runoff of the topsoil into the creek so she complained again, this time to Council general manager Troy Green.

Two senior officers then inspected the property and it’s believed the owner has undertaken to stop work and meet with officers next week.

The 1,000-acre property is owned by a company with family links to former high-flying Gold Coast developer John Fish, who did not respond to a request by Echonetdaily for comment yesterday.

Mr Fish hit the headlines just two weeks ago after a police raid on a Gold Coast crime gang that netted a huge haul of stolen goods, including a multi-million-dollar collection of opals that had been reported stolen by the entrepreneur.

A News Corp report said Mr Fish fought off bankruptcy four years ago, owing more than $1 million to creditors.

Downstream bridge at Hopping Dick Creek showing the muddied water.
Bridge on the Oxley River downstream from Hopping Dick Creek showing the muddied water washing down.

Irreparable damage

Ms Hearder said council officers had refused to meet with her over the issue so she could show them the impacts of the pollution ‘but I don’t think they are treating it as the ecological disaster that it is; the creek may have been irreparably damaged already’.

A council spokesman said staff were currently assessing ‘whether any further enforcement action is necessary under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act’.

The spokesman said the owner of the property in question had claimed a development application ‘will soon be lodged for the earthworks, to create house pads for a number of existing rural residential lots on the property’.

Council officers also had ‘sought appropriate sedimentation erosion controls are put in place’ and the Office of Water had been notified of the actions.

The spokesman said the Act set fixed fines for unauthorised earthworks of $1,500 for an individual and $3,000 for a company.

Ms Hearder said an infringement notice and relatively small fine for the unauthorised clearing was not enough to deter further similar work, and immediate remediation works were required before more rain fell, ‘and not just some topsoil, a sediment fence or grass seeding’.

‘This creek used to have crystal-clear water and I used to see platypus in it almost on a daily basis, but none have been seen for months. It’s a very sad situation indeed for all the critters that call the creek home,’ she told Echonetdaily.

Ms Hearder wrote to Council’s general manager saying that since she first complained nearly seven months ago, the same developer has not stopped excavating.

‘From 7.30am till 5.30pm the excavators, bulldozer, a massive mining dump truck and other trucks and machinery have been working six days a week,’ she said.

‘There has been a… lack of regard for the environment… and the resultant pollution of Hopping Dick Creek and other smaller watercourses, all of which lead into the water supply for Murwillumbah.

The property at Boormans Road seen from a distance showing the cleared area and road works.
The property at Boormans Road, seen from a distance, showing the cleared area and roadworks.

Regeneration

‘I have lived here for 22 years and have devoted many years to regenerating my property, weeding, planting and restoring its natural features. I have a covenant on 90 per cent of my property protecting threatened species, a vulnerable forest ecosystem and wildlife corridor.

‘All these same environmental factors would apply to the 1,000-acre property to which I refer, only on a bigger scale.

‘Sadly what I can achieve in over 20 years can be destroyed in a day with earthmoving equipment.’

She said Council last year launched its Platypus Project, aimed at reducing threats to the Tweed’s platypus populations by ‘working with the Tweed community to protect and repair our water catchments and special habitats’.

‘But nothing could be further from the truth: What is the point of having a Water Watch Program or the Platypus Watch program if the integrity of the creek cannot be upheld by Council, and developers not stopped from polluting the creeks on such a massive scale?’ she said.

‘The platypus that were regularly sighted here before have now gone.

A creek runs red from tonnes of sediment washed down.
A creek runs red from tonnes of sediment washed down.

‘There must be quite a few tonnes of mud just in the little rainforest gully that feeds from that property into mine near my entrance, which is now full of mud, in sections up to 60cm deep.

‘This gully then goes straight into the creek; however, all the mud and runoff is destroying my entrance.’

Ms Hearder said a road around 500 metres long had been built ‘from the top of a steep hill down to the creek’.

‘Last Thursday we received 306mm rain and on either side of this road there was a river of running mud, one side going straight into the creek and the other going into this rainforest gully and then the creek.

‘I can see no visible sign of any sediment traps, runoff drains, or any form of recommended drainage for this road, or anything in place to stop the speed of the runoff water. In fact all the excavation works seem to drain directly towards the creek.

‘At the very bottom of the road some fill has been placed that has obviously come from a demolition site as it is full of broken concrete, tiles, fibro, plastic, electric cables and other waste products, and now this is also going into the creek as well as the mud.

The creek several days after last week's rain.
The creek several days after last week’s rain.

‘Owing to the heavy vehicles constantly going over the causeway in recent months a huge section of the concrete causeway also broke off and has now gone down the creek,’ Ms Hearder said.

Crs Gary Bagnall and Katie Milne inspected the site and talked to Ms Hearder when she contacted them, and both agreed it was a serious and large-scale pollution event that needed investigation and remedial action.

‘It’s left a huge scar on the local landscape there and riparian vegetation has been cleared,’ Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily.

The property holding owned by the Fish family company is believed to be one that Cr Milne urged Council to buy as a wildlife corridor and refuge when it was for sale two years ago for $1.2 million.

Four subdivided rural-lifestyle lots on the 1,000-acre property, ranging in size from 50 acres to 100 acres, are currently being offered for sale through a local real estate agent with an asking price totalling $1.478 million.

 

 


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8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Echo for bringing us this story. This is a truly shocking event. It is depressing that such a small fine has been issued against this ugly form of environmental vandalism.

  2. As the WHS&E systems manager of a local Civil Construction company i am appalled that [what appears to be a] serious Environmental breach has been seemingly, allowed, expected, accepted, anticipated, overlooked, underestimated, under reprimanded/fined, I could go on and on. [If this is true it is] nothing but a gross negligence. Compensation will not bring back the Platypus, as quoted this catastrophic damage can be caused in a single day, however not “by Earthmoving equipment’ but [by] those using it, civil works can and are performed with environmental sensitivity. I hope some assistance is brought to the creek quickly!

  3. I seem to recall that where a land owner refuses to cooperate with a council regarding unauthorized clearing/earthworks then it is open to council to go in, tear down the illegal structures, put in remediation works and restore the area then send the bill to the owners. It becomes an enforceable debt. Once everything is back to where it is supposed to be the land owner can then go through the proper process of submitting the DA first, pretty simple really. Oh, and they still have to pay the council’s bill. And if it involves some level of threat to an endangered species, population or critical habitat it could even become a matter for State or Commonwealth approval. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

  4. I thought the picture at the top looked a bit like the Brunswick River after the heavy downpour we had recently. Didn’t hear anyone suggesting that was an ‘ecological disaster’ or result of someone’s negligence.

    • Martin this occurred in the very headwaters of the Tweed Catchment where it is well vegetated and the runoff usually clear. What chance do we have for good water quality if the water is filled with sediment from the moment it starts flowing. If the Brunswick looks like this at the headwaters then I would suggest that you too have a potential disaster on your hands

  5. I wonder if the clearing of trees was legal? The Department of Fisheries, OEH and the EPA should be notified to make sure there are no breaches within their regulatory framework. Not that it will result in anything with all the reported illegal incidents the past decade with little or no deterrents put in place. The regulatory agencies seem to be a sham and unable or unwilling to do anything about environmental destruction. I agree with Serge, make the landholders rehabilitate and when it’s back to the original state, then put a DA in. Otherwise, the council does absolutely nothing regarding compliance of rules put in place. What a joke our governments are becoming.

  6. Apparently the developer has a private native forestry agreement and unbelievably enough that takes precedence over any threatened species laws i.e. it doesn’t matter if a species is endangered if the developer has such an agreement he can go right on ahead ….. in other words there is no legal protection for our native animals in this country and developers rule!

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