By Luis Feliu
Massive and controversial logging and road works on a property next to a Crown reserve in the heart of the Tweed Valley has sparked community outrage with legal action by council, a protest outside the state MPs office and a personal mayoral mission to the minister to stop the work.
Campaigners against the unauthorised works say they amount to ‘state-sanctioned destruction of precious remnant forests’ with aerial photos identifying 20 hectares of environmental zones, which have been deemed prime koala habitat but deferred by the state, subject to logging or clearing for roads.
Tweed Shire Council last night unanimously resolved to engage lawyers to investigate prosecuting the owner of the Boormans Road property at Tyalgum over the works on sensitive environmentally protected zones, some within an adjacent crown reserve.
However, council planners say a major contributor to the alleged unauthorised clearing relates to a ‘Private Native Forestry Vegetation Plan’ issued by the NSW Environment Protection Agency in 2013.
Council has repeatedly raised its concerns with the NSW government, as has Richmond MP Justine Elliot who has written to environment minister Gabrielle Upton calling for the work to be stopped.
In the resolution last night, council also decided to issue immediate stop-work and clean-up orders on the site and back mayor Katie Milne personally urging minister Upton to revoke the so-called ‘licence’ for private native forestry which the property owners Hewitville Holdings has used to justify the works.
The property, adjacent to the Limpinwood Nature Reserve, is owned by Hewitville Holdings, which is linked to former high-flying Gold Coast developer John Fish (see previous story at https://www.echo.net.au/2015/07/bid-to-sue-tweed-developer-over-illegal-works-dropped/)
North East Forestry Aliiance (NEFA) and Northern Rivers Guardians yesterday held a protest rally over the issue at Tweed MP Geoff Provest’s office in Tweed Heads.
Welcoming the Tweed council decision, NEFA spokesman Dailan Pugh said the case demonstrated ‘the importance of Environmental Zones as they are the only option left for the community to control land clearing and logging as the State Government changes the laws to give them free reign’.
‘We are privileged to live in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. We have already cleared too much of our world heritage forests, giving us the most species threatened with extinction in NSW. This gives us a special responsibility to look after what is lef,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘It is time for the NSW Government to restore the right of Tweed, Byron and Ballina shires to create Environmental Zones as these are the only way to stop State sanctioned destruction of our precious remnant forests.’
In their report, planners say council has raised concerns with the NSW government on a number of times over the private native forestry (PNF) approvals ‘which provide only minimal levels of assessment of the local environmental impacts on the properties involved, and no prior consultation or approvals processes for surrounding local communities and councils in respect of supporting road infrastructure, and monitoring of ongoing impacts’.
The planners noted the predicament the state has left council with, in that ‘a key consideration for the PNF approval for the subject site is that, whilst the state-based legislation has its own approval process, the use and works still need to be permissible with the zoning of the site’.
‘Under Tweed Local Environmental Plan 2014, large parts of the subject site are Deferred Matters, which then defers to the remaining operational provisions of Tweed Local Environmental Plan 2000,’ planners say.
‘This LEP zones parts of the site, part 7(d) Environmental Protection (Scenic/Escarpment) and 7(l) Environmental Protection (Habitat), which requires development consent from Council for forestry and road works.
‘The owners of the subject site have been provided with an extensive briefing of these LEP consent requirements on multiple occasions.
‘On 11 September 2017, Council was informed through an auditdocument prepared by the North East Forestry Alliance, that unauthorised road and vegetation removal works had been undertaken by the owners of the subject site, specifically within a portion of the south-eastern corner of Lot 136, in association with an existing portion of previously unmade Crown Road Reserve.
‘This documented evidence of substantial threats to significant threatened and endangered fauna and flora, including the Masked Owl, Marbled Frogmouth and koalas.
‘The audit also identified a lack of erosion sedimentation mitigation, and a failure to take account of the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s “Private Native Forestry Code of Practice for Northern NSW”, which is an integral condition of PNF approvals,’ they said.