Roads and Maritime Services NSW (RMS) has been accused of sitting on studies of a koala colony in the path of the Broadwater section of the Pacific Highway, with protection groups suggesting the authority is massaging the figures.
And the Ballina Environment Society is suggesting the reason RMS is sticking to the more expensive and environmentally damaging route is that it may have already approved some key tenders.
Save Ballina’s Koalas campaigners say they are ‘frustrated with repeated delays’ in releasing the latest study results.
Campaign co-sponsor Friends of the Koala applied for information about the study under freedom of information legislation in August last year but RMS requested modification of the application in October and then delayed the release of documents until 7 December 7.
Campaign spokesperson and Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson said that Woolgoolga2Ballina Project Manager, Bob Higgins had ‘promised Ballina Council that the koala studies and planning for the controversial Section 10 (Broadwater to Coolgardie) would be transparent.’
‘What we’ve got instead is a closed door and information being kept from the public,’ Cr Johnson said.
Echonetdaily understands the documentation that RMS is willing to release will be after it has finalised and circulated the Ballina Koala Plan, which is expected to be in late January.
RMS ‘not acting in good faith’
Cr Johnson has accused RMS of ‘not acting in good faith’.
And Friends of the Koala president, Lorraine Vass said she ‘thought NSW’s right to information system was aimed at ensuring responsible and effective government but I have become totally disillusioned.
‘Four months down the track and we are really no closer to receiving any of the scientific documentation we have been seeking, even though we have shared all our Ballina data and we provided the majority of the samples for the genetic study,’ Mrs Vass said.
‘Quite frankly, we expected better in terms of consultation and provision of information.
‘The reason for the delay given in the latest advice appears to be based on a perception that campaigners could jeopardise RMS’s “ability to complete a piece of research and internal deliberations towards a publication”. Intervention such as “public circulation and/or discussion of the primary materials that inform the proposed publication”is described as an “intervening event” which is clearly unacceptable to RMS,’ Mrs Vass said.
Cr Johnson said that without information being released ‘it’s hard not to be concerned that the RMS doesn’t like what the PVA (Population Viability Analysis) studies are showing’.
‘Perhaps instead of accepting the science they are trying to find another way to satisfy the federal environment minister, Greg Hunt’s conditions that were imposed to ensure the long term viability of this population,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Effie Ablett, of the Ballina Environment Society, says the recent genetic studies are ‘likely to prove that the population in the path of the proposed Section 10 of the Highway upgrade is a source population for most of the northern rivers koalas’.
‘Breeding is reduced as numbers of males, particularly young males are low, and this is likely to be the result of car hits on local roads and wild dog attacks,’ said Dr Ablett.
Dr Ablett queried why RMS had ‘doggedly stuck to this more expensive route, when there are other route options largely using existing highway?’
‘Is it because contracts have already been signed for high-level construction over the Bagotville swamp areas, and a very long bridge over one of the widest parts of the Richmond River near Broadwater?
‘Is it because of one or two influential landowners would be affected by alternate routes or quarry materials on this route?
‘I question RMS’s transparency and the procedures under GIPA which could reveal this sort of information,’ Dr Ablett said.