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Byron Shire
April 11, 2021

Ballina council opposes ‘koala friendly’ highway route

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Members of the Alstonville Public School debating team Chiara Wenban, Jessica Chate, Charlotte Lopes and Lara Adcock argued that if a bypass of Wardell went ahead, ‘many animals would be killed, most importantly koalas. Mayor David Wright is also pictured.
Members of the Alstonville Public School debating team Chiara Wenban, Jessica Chate, Charlotte Lopes and Lara Adcock argued that if a bypass of Wardell went ahead, ‘many animals would be killed, most importantly koalas. Mayor David Wright is also pictured.

Darren Coyne

Ballina councilor Jeff Johnson will attempt to overturn yesterday’s decision of the council to rule out any bypass to the east of Wardell.

Mayor David Wright had lodged a mayoral minute aimed at letting federal and state politicians know that the existing Pacific Highway corridor through Wardell should not be considered.

In comments to the minute Cr Wright said the new highway should deviate west or east of the village to protect the safety and welfare of Wardell residents.

But at yesterday’s meeting, a last minute amendment also ruled out building a bypass east of the village, which Save Ballina Koala had suggested would be a cheaper and environmentally safer alternative.

The Save Ballina Koalas campaign has been arguing the Roads and Maritime Services’ (RMS) preferred route through the Blackwall Range would split the undisturbed range of the shire’s last intact koala colony.

Cr Johnson, who was roundly criticized by a number of councilors for recently lobbying the minister to look at alternative routes to protect the koalas, including an eastern option, later told Echonetdaily that the meeting was an ‘ambush’.

Members of the Wardell Progress Association, who are lobbying for the RMS’ preferred route west of the village to remain the preferred option, attended the meeting.

Spokesperson Paola Rickard, during public access, told the council the Wardell Progress Association had been involved in route negotiations for ten years.

She argued that the eastern route put forward by Save Ballina’s Koalas would have a significant impact on Wardell residents.

‘We’ve just found out that Jeff Johnson went pushing for another route,’ she said.

‘This option would have huge impact on Wardell.

‘This is four lane highway built on soft soil and, like the Ballina bypass, would require heaps of fill and properties would need to be purchased.

‘It’s appalling that this route went to the minister without no consultation with the people of Wardell.’

She said land had already been purchased along the proposed route and Wardell residents had made it clear they did not want a four-lane highway towering over their village.

Cr Johnson maintained however that he had lobbied the minister knowing that the council at its last meeting had voted unanimously to look at other options in order to protect farmland and threatened species.

‘This is one of many options and it saves two kilometres of highway and protects Aboriginal sites and threatened species,’ he said.

‘I appreciate the Wardell residents are opposed to any change but we also have a petition signed by 1600 people calling for the route to be changed.

He said a route following the existing highway would impact on fewer properties so ‘it is disappointing that the mayor has significantly altered his motion’.

Despite those arguments, the altered mayoral minute was passed.

Cr Jeff Johnson, Ken Johnston, Keith Williams and Susan Meehan voted against, with mayor David Wright, Robyn Hordern, Sharon Cadwallader, Keith Johnson, Ben Smith and Paul Worth supporting.

Cr Johnson’s rescission motion to overturn the decision will be considered at the next meeting of the council.

Following the debate, a group of students from the Alstonville Public School gave a display of the debating prowess, which saw them recently win a schools debating competition.

To the amusement of some, one of the topics they spoke about was the environmental impact that a bypass of Wardell would have on threatened species.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. I hope you will publish this response since I am quoted in the article.

    I would like to bring to your attention the fact that the residents of Wardell are not against saving the koala and the discussion should never be Wardell vs the koala. Alas it appears that this is going to be the case. In fact the residents of Wardell support all the recommendations made in Steve Phillips shire –wide Koala study. Importantly the Study does not recommend for the route to be changed. We should rally behind the study recommendations and ensure that are all implemented. So much misinformation is being propagated and it is so distressing. This propose eastern alternative would wipe out the eastern portion of the Wardell village- It would affect countless residential and rural properties. It would mean a second towering 4-lane wide bridge at Wardell. It would have impact on the floodplain hydrology, it would cause flooding in Wardell and surrounds, it would requires tons of fill on unstable ground, etc. It is not the cheaper option and it was discounted 10 years ago when the various routes were investigated. all of this debate is divisive and does nothing to protect the koala. All effort should be focused to ensure that the movement needs of koalas during the construction phase can be accommodated, whilst after completion all opportunities for both safe passage under the highway and exclusion of access to the road corridor by koalas have been maximised.

    After all this is what Koala Habitat & Population Assessment Ballina Shire Council LGA, (i.e. the Study) has recommended, that is to implement all measures available to protect the koala prior, during and post construction. The Study did not recommend for the route to be changed.

    Kind regards
    Paola

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