Just days before it was given the go-ahead to clear koala habitat at its Kings Forest development, Bob Ell’s Leda group was given an extension to find a solution to environmental issues created at its planned Cobaki estate when it built an unauthorised roadway.
According to Tweed Shire Council officers, some 20 hectares of Saltmarsh became isolated from tidal flushing after the developer pushed through the unauthorised road, later dubbed the ‘Missing Link’, connecting two parts of the future development in 2012.
The extent of the problem is revealed in a report to last week’s Tweed Council meeting, where officers revealed much of the isolated Saltmarsh is dying or dead and has become a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Council referred the issue to the Department of Planning and Environment (DoPE) soon after it was discovered, which issued two fines totalling just $6,000 for the unauthorised works.
In February 2013 DoPE ordered Leda to review and report on the impacts arising from the earthworks, which resulted in the excavation of a channel from the creek (west of the unauthorised roadway) to restore tidal flows to the area.
But council staff say that while the new channel allowed tidal inflow, the lack of grade across the site resulted in the water not being able to drain properly prior to the next tidal inundation.
In July 2014, DoPE issued a second order, requiring Leda to ‘restore the natural tidal regime in the area’.
The final Saltmarsh Rehabilitation Plan was to have been submitted to DoPE by May 13 this year but Leda has since met with the department, requesting an extension to the timeframe and has been given a six-week extension to finalise and submit the plan.
Site visits by council officers and correspondence from Leda’s consultants have confirmed that substantial damage has occurred to the Saltmarsh community due to the prolonged inundation.
A letter to council from Planit Consulting, dated August 15, 2014, stated, ‘…the prior prolonged increased tidal inundation and existing topography has modified the distribution of the Saltmarsh community. It is considered the inundation combined with site topography is preventing the successful rehabilitation of the Saltmarsh through the permanent inundation of areas.
‘Significantly permanent inundation has reduced the distribution of the mapped Saltmarsh and combined with the topography would preclude its recolonization to areas of the site.’
And the issue was acknowledged by Leda’s own consultant, JWA Ecological Consultants, who wrote in November 20 last year, ‘It became evident some time after the drainage channel was constructed that the western Saltmarsh area became permanently inundated as tidal waters were not able to effectively drain from the Saltmarsh during the low tide periods.’
‘My inspection revealed that the inundated Saltmarsh vegetation was dead.’
According to JWA’s mapping, the initial Saltmarsh covered approximately 55 hectares. Council officers estimate that ‘a minimum of approximately 20 ha is likely to have sustained damage.’
In addition, the undrained, dying Saltmarsh has become a major breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, the council report says.
‘Monitoring by council officers has recorded significantly elevated numbers of Aedes vigilax mosquito larvae across the inundated areas. This species is a vector of Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses.
‘Ross River virus has been recorded at nearby trap stations. Tweed Shire Council and City of Gold Coast have raised public health concerns with Leda and Department of Planning and council has received numerous complaints from nearby residents during the 2014-15 mosquito season,’ the report says.
‘At a recent Independent Chair meeting held with Leda representatives on May 14, it was reported by Leda that they had received more recent on site reports from their contractors that there was no major mosquito activity occurring, which they attributed to an improved management of tidal and stormwater on the site. It was agreed at the meeting that specialist council staff will meet with Leda to provide advice on strategies to manage mosquito issues in the shorter term,’ the report states.
Tweed Shire Council staff noted that, ‘Council is not is a position to issue penalty notices or undertake further legal action, as a result of the department already issuing penalty notices for the Missing Link works.’