With plans continuing to unfold over the Byron bypass project, one of the main components that will allow it to occur is called biobanking, whereby native flora and fauna earmarked for removal/destruction are compensated for with like-for-like elsewhere.
Does it ensure environmental safeguards against biodiversity loss – and is the process with the bypass transparent so far?
Local ecologist David Milledge has raised concerns with Byron’s bypass project with regard to the biobanking component, yet makes the point he has not been able to access all the relevant information, ‘as it’s not available on the Council website’.
Within his assessment, he says an area of indirect impact of the proposal, ‘calculated as a 5m-wide strip either side of the bypass footprint appears manifestly inadequate’.
‘This is because the adverse effects of noise, dust, light spill, sedimentation, pollution including eutrophication, and invasive plants and animals, both during and after the construction phase are likely to extend to a distance of at least 30m or more from the bypass footprint. This additional area should have been considered in the generation of biodiversity credits.
‘The bypass construction footprint appears to contain a number of hollow-bearing trees that will be removed for construction but there appears to be no explanation of how their loss will be offset.
‘There are also a number of threatened species in addition to Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail, Black Bittern, Pale-vented Bush-hen and Common Planigale which will lose habitat as a result of the bypass construction but that do not appear to have been considered in the generation of biodiversity credits. These comprise the White-eared Monarch, Grey-headed Flying-fox, Eastern Blossom-bat, Eastern Long-eared Bat, and Greater Broad-nosed Bat’.
‘This additional loss compounds the impact of the destruction of habitat already permitted of four other threatened species going under the bulldozer.
‘Although the BioBanking principle of following the “avoid, minimise, and mitigate” hierarchy is claimed to have been followed, it is not clear why the alignment of the southern section of the bypass was not moved to the east (to border existing development) to avoid fragmenting and isolating an apparently high-value stand of Paperbark forest in the northeastern corner of the SEPP wetlands.
Milledge added, ‘The destruction of the habitat of these threatened fauna species should not have been allowed to be compensated for by “protecting” areas of habitat already protected under State legislation (SEPP 14 Wetlands).
‘This makes a mockery of the underlying premise of biobanking, the “improve and maintain standard”.’
L&E Court judge
Additionally, NSW Land and Environment Court chief judge Brian J Preston SC appears somewhat sceptical of ripping into native bushland and plonking it elsewhere.
He penned Biodiversity Offsets: Adequacy and Efficacy in Theory and Practice for an Indonesian conference in 2015.
In it he says, ‘It is important to remember that compensation through biodiversity offsetting is a mechanism of last resort. Compensatory mitigation must not be used as a method to reduce environmental impacts to make a potentially avoidable project appear more acceptable’.
Concluding the 43-page report, Preston writes, ‘Biodiversity offsets are… not the first strategy to be used to manage adverse impacts of development on biodiversity or a quick and cheap means to secure approval’.
‘They are demanding and often costly. They should be used as the last resort. However, viewed correctly and designed and implemented properly, they can be a valuable mechanism to address biodiversity loss’.
Greens MP Tamara Smith, former Greens MLC Ian Cohen and former Greens councillors Duncan Dey and Tom Tabart are unsupportive of the bypass. So too is former Greens mayor and NSW MLC Jan Barham.
Barham told The Echo, ‘Despite a long-term opposition to the Byron bypass, like many I believed that it would never be built owing to the poor return on investment’.
‘The state government funding has hastened the proposal toward reality, but it’s unknown why the elected body appears not to have taken control of the tender and required assurances that all necessary highest standards for management are in place, prior to the tender being issued.
‘I requested clarity on the general manager’s delegation to issue the tender, but my questions have not received responses.
‘I did review the last few years’ agendas and found that this is now the way Council is done.
‘Council has taken on Biobanking and offsetting for the bypass, but a review of the reports and consent reveals the assessments and future compliance deficient.
‘It appears that not enough offsets have been attributed or the necessary guarantees for the delivery of a meaningful offset [given].
‘The sites that have been identified as offsets are already protected and this raises doubt regarding the integrity of biobanking, particularly in Byron Shire.
‘I believe this is a breach of the social licence with the community, who expect and deserve the highest standard of protection and enhancement for biodiversity.
‘A calculation of the carbon impact of this proposal also appears to have been overlooked. Byron Shire Council presents a Zero Emissions Byron plan, but does not appear to have factored in its own contribution to emissions from infrastructure works, including the Byron bypass; this is another failing of the bypass project’.
Acting mayor dismisses former mayor’s concerns
The Greens-led Council under acting mayor Michael Lyon has dismissed Barham’s concerns.
The Echo asked, ‘There appears little interest in preserving or enhancing the ecological credentials of the Shire from this current Council majority. Have you plans to address this?
He replied, ‘Things have changed a bit since Jan was mayor – the traffic certainly has and not for the better’.
‘I am satisfied with the way the bypass is being handled, including the tender process, which will be reported to councillors for decision over the next two meetings.
‘I have given Jan answers on some of her questions, at short notice, but I have not had the time to clarify the remainder for her but will in due course. While I agree biobanking as a scheme is very flawed, it is the mechanism in place that we are required to use as per the legislation. I would love to see that legislation changed’.