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Byron Shire
May 19, 2021

Pacific Highway boss rejects animal carnage claims

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RMS Pacific Highway general manager Bob Higgins. Photo Andrew Jennings
RMS Pacific Highway general manager Bob Higgins. Photo Andrew Jennings

Pacific Highway general manager Bob Higgins has said the strict conditions governing the highway upgrade ensure that environmental impacts are being kept to a minimum.

‘We’re under scrutiny by a number of government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Authority, and the federal and state approval bodies,’ he said.

‘They make suggestions. We take that on board. Generally we are complying with requirements.’

‘If we find sick animals we have a rescue plan in place and we work very closely with Friends of the Koala on how that animal should be treated.

‘There is no suggestion that we’re trying to hide dead animals.’

‘There’s no doubt there are a number of people who don’t want the highway built and we’re trying to work with people to let them know in advance what we are doing.’

Mr Higgins defended the route chosen saying ‘we believe this is the best one’.

‘If you look at the route quite a lot of it goes through cleared farmland. Yes there are pockets of vegetation but we looked at the route east of the highway and the issues were soft soil and how you get through Wardell … we came to the conclusion that this route was the best for the highway,’ he said.

‘There are very tight controls for this section. Much more than many other projects along the highway.’

‘As part of those approvals we’re being watched very closely by the EPA and we have to produce various reports.’

Condemnation

Despite those assurances, Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe has today presented a motion to the NSW Parliament condemning the failure of the Berejiklian Government to implement proper protections for the koala population impacted by the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway Upgrade project.

Ms Sharpe used the motion to outline serious concerns for koalas following a recent severe and extensive wildfire in the area in September, shortly after koala exclusion fencing was installed in July.

Reports indicate that the fire burned 320 hectares of native vegetation over two days on 4 and 5 September 2017, including up to the south-eastern edge of the fencing, resulting in extensive loss of koala habitat while the fencing may have trapped koalas fleeing the fire.

This situation is compounded by clearing of koala habitat occurring in the Pacific Highway Upgrade corridor, with associated human and machinery disturbance to the koala population.

She said local wildlife groups and ecologists have raised concerns that these developments have exposed the koala population to loss of food and shelter trees, noise, dust, starvation, dehydration, predation and stress – yet after requests by these groups for meetings and actions to address the situation, nothing has been heard from the Government.

The motion calls on the Government to demonstrate to the community, ecologists and koala wildlife protectors how the current work will be altered to ensure that the Ballina Koala population is not further harmed in the construction of the Pacific Highway Upgrade.

Ms Sharpe plans to bring the motion back to the floor of Parliament for debate as soon as possible.

‘We are witnessing the creeping destruction of prime habitat affecting a nationally significant population of koalas, brought to you by the Berejiklian Government.

‘It is a total failure of environmental responsibility from the Government, made worse by their arrogant response ignoring the concerns of the local community.

‘The Government’s approach to this road project has all the hallmarks of their usual philosophy when it comes to the protecting the environment: “ignore the science, develop and clear, and ask questions later.”‘

‘The only proper response for the Government now is to demonstrate to the community, ecologists and koala wildlife protectors how the current works will be altered to ensure that the Ballina koala population is not further harmed.”

 

 

 


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4 COMMENTS

  1. Well here we go – the next load of fabrications delivered by Mr Higgins in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable.. Some of these untruths really must be called out:
    Mr Higgins said:
    “If you look at the route quite a lot of it goes through cleared farmland. Yes there are pockets of vegetation but we looked at the route east of the highway and the issues were soft soil and how you get through Wardell … we came to the conclusion that this route was the best for the highway,”

    The route does not go through “pockets of vegetation” – the route destroys and fragments the largest and most significant tracts and corridors of native vegetation in Ballina Shire including habitat critical to the survival of nationally significant koala and long-nosed potoroo colonies. It will also completely encircle and crap upon the Ngunya-Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area – a very important part of the National Reserve System.

    The Kempsey bypass is an excellent comparison to Wardell when it comes to soft floodplain soils – the Kempsey bypass was built right across the floodplain and is a fully functional highway.

  2. And how can Mr Higgins possibly justify a highway deviation that is around 3km longer than the existing straight and flat highway??

  3. Prior to works environmental investigations are done on site identifying animals, key habitats. During clearing for beginning of works environmental staff are on site to stop work for any animal. During construction monthly environmental reports are a requirement of the contractor. The upgrades facilitate animal crossings and fencing to ensure greater connectivity of habitat without risking animal loss due to collision with vehicles. Land is reclaimed for the environment at least equal to the land area cleared for the new road in other localities with similar ecological attributes.
    Stop complaining about progress that makes our roads safer for us and our animals.
    For those of you who think the new highway should follow the existing highway then you obviously haven’t lived here long enough to know how much of the Far North Coast floods, including segregating the highway (and our environment) when it does. This goes hand in hand with the black soil deposits which would mean more taxpayer funds (a lot of millions) would be required to even stabilise the land for safe construction.

  4. Yo Fred

    Are you part of the whole RMS circus or an attendant consultant? Your contribution here would seem to indicate that you have some knowledge of RMS processes and have trust in them..

    RMS route selection and development processes have been proven so dodgy that they can never be trusted. Bob Higgins has been informed and known since late 2004 that if the highway was built through the area currently being cleared that nationally significant koala and potoroo colonies will be made extinct.

    Your suggestions that there is “greater connectivity of habitat” and that “land is reclaimed for the environment at least equal to the land area cleared for the new road in other localities with similar ecological attributes” are not supported by the reality on the ground.

    The reality on the ground with the Wardell bypass and the upgrade east of Grafton is that extent of habitat is now massively reduced and connectivity fatally compromised. These areas were amongst the last bastions of intact coastal biodiversity and they have now been ripped asunder – the reality is that there is now much less habitat and very little connectivity remaining in these landscapes. In relation to your claim that an equal area of similar habitat is “reclaimed” – at no stage anywhere along the highway has there been a true like-for-like offset or any conservation gains. The entire Pacific Highway upgrade is one of habitat degradation and extinction.

    Nothing wrong with building safer roads to save lives – but this doesn’t require major deviations cutting through some of the last significant remnants of coastal biodiversity. There is so much cleared land lacking any conservation value on the Northern Rivers available for building roads that there is absolutely no need for clearing and fragmenting the habitat of nationally significant koala and potoroo colonies and absolutely no need to create massive impacts upon the Ngunya-Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area.

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