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.’
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.”