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October 4, 2023

Tweed planners back off prosecuting over illegal works

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The bridge on the Oxley River downstream from Hopping Dick Creek showing the muddied water washing down earlier this year.
The bridge on the Oxley River downstream from Hopping Dicks Creek showing the muddied water washing down earlier this year.

Luis Feliu

Tweed Shire Council planners have backed off prosecuting a developer who undertook illegal earthworks on a property near Tyalgum which caused major pollution of a nearby creek earlier this year.

The event was described at the time by neighbours and Tweed councillors as a major ecological disaster and prompted a decision in August by council to prosecute the landowner in the Land and Environment Court over the unauthorised works at the property near Hopping Dicks Creek, Limpinwood.

Council also issued a clean-up order against the landowner as the creek had been polluted with tonnes of soil and silt washed into it following heavy rains soon after the earthworks.

Tomorrow night, chief planner Vince Connell is recommending that councillors drop the prosecution, saying the  cost and risk involved may not be worth it, with a confidential report on that legal advice to be considered.

Mr Connell said the developer had also undertaken to engage an expert to prepare a plan to remediate the creek, which staff were satisfied with.

In his report, Mr Connell says council solicitors had advised that ‘the advancement of these proceedings will necessitate a much high (sic) order of further investigation and evidence, as well as an assessment of the risks to council’.

‘In light of the substantial resources required and apparent risk for council to advance these proceedings, and given the more recent level of cooperation and action taken by the site owner in responding to council’s clean-up notice, it is considered appropriate that council determine not to advance the previously resolved class 5 proceedings against the site owner’.

But Cr Katie Milne says she would like to see the clean-up completed first before discontinuing the prosecution, which council’s river committee had strongly recommended.

Cr Milne says it was ‘a clear case of unauthorised earthworks and one of the worst water pollution incidents I have seen in the shire’.

‘Clearing on these steep slopes went on for months with masses of sediment settling over 750 metres of Hopping Dick Creek, smothering the marine line and covering platypus holes,’ she said.

Cr Milne told Echonetdaily it was wrong for council to consider a backflip of its previous stand to prosecute ‘before even getting a proper assessment of our prospects of success due to a lack of will to compile the paperwork’.

Cr Milne said she would also move at tomorrow’s meeting for council to establish a protocol for future major earthworks in the shire to avoid similar cases.

Earlier this year, the Tyalgum Road landowner had been fined $1,500 for unauthorised earthworks when a bulldozer and other heavy equipment was used to build a road and house pads.

Downstream neighbour Susie Hearder at the time claimed that further bulldozing and excavation since the landowner was fined, 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 Dicks Creek had also wiped out vital habitat for platypus and frogs that abounded there.

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

She said she first complained to Council and the NSW Office of Water about the massive excavation and road-building work at the property last year but nothing was done and earthworks continued almost daily.

She then complained to council general manager Troy Green who asked senior officers to inspect the property and the owner then stopped work.

The 1,000-acre property is owned by a company with family links to former high-flying Gold Coast developer John Fish, who hit the headlines earlier this year 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.

The property is 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, were being being offered for sale earliere this year through a local real estate agent with an asking price totalling $1.478 million.

Ms Hearder told Echonetdaily earlier this year that an infringement notice and relatively small fine for the unauthorised clearing was not enough to deter further similar work,

She has lived on her property for 22 years and devoted many years to regenerating, weeding, planting and restoring its natural features. She has a covenant on 90 per cent of the 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,’ Ms Hearder had said.

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

Ms Hearder said Council in 2013 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.’

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  1. This is a typical response from Tweed Shire Council.They have repeatedly lay down and licked Developers shoes over the years instead of standing up for Shires environment and its inhabitants. The Council pretends to be doing the right thing and even conducts promotions, such as the River Festival this weekend, to hoodwink the ignorant majority that all is well with the regions life source.
    Yet at the same time they let people pollute it like in this case at Tyalgum and their own Sewerage Department repeatedly spews raw untreated shit from its overwhelmed system into the river system.
    The right wing block of Councillors who have been complaining of the huge legal costs incurred in the past few years by Council would prefer that they and their cashed up mates were left to their own devices so that they can carve this region up similar to the Sunshine Coast area, but without the hindrance of regulations and protective laws.
    I challenge the new Mayor to stand up and fight for the environment and our River like he has declared he would and not bow down to the Developer,Farming and National Party lobbyists.

  2. As with kids and pets: if you make a rule, enforce the rule. If a rule will/can not be enforced, don’t make the rule, as the result of non-enforcement will be disrespect of the rule maker. Period.

  3. What council environmental law is seen as is a joke , thats because it is . Not only Tyalgum but Fingal head and Kings forest . Not to mention the clear felling of entire pockets of native forest to move Fruit Bats on . All these blatant large scale breeches of environmental law and no one ever gets prosecuted . Would they wave a parking fine ? Not a chance , what a joke as usual the environment always comes of second best .

  4. Yes this is becoming a typical council response: Developers not being prosecuted when they break every planning law in the book, yet if the home owner was to do likewise they would be shot down in an instant.


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