Byron Shire Council’s commitment to go ‘over and above [the] project requirements’ of biobanking to compensate for the land clearing involved in the Byron bypass was questioned at last week’s council meeting (Thursday, August 22) by former Mayor Jan Barham.
The exact damage Council needs to compensate for is still not known, due to ‘the unknown values of the biodiversity destruction that is being proposed’ as council has refused to have an independent ecological study of area done, she said.
‘Council has refused to provide permission for an independent investigation of the area that may be Nationally Critically Endangered Rainforest,’ said Ms Barham.
Ms Barham drew attention to the staff report ‘13.25 – Byron Bypass – Environmental Compensation Options Over & Above Project Requirements’ saying that, ‘What we see with this report is again the practice of compensation for the bypass being done by protecting areas that are already protected and providing minimal enhancement with weed management.’
This ‘is a failure of open and transparent process and of BSC’s supposed commitment to biodiversity protection and enhancement,’ she said.
Ms Barham has also drawn attention to the fact that Council didn’t identify the current zoning and land ownership on the three areas – Butler Street Reserve bushland, Midgen Park Swamp in Suffolk Park and Sunrise Boulevard bushland – recommended as compensation for the bypass clearing. Council has not clarified if they will be established as biobanks.
A council spokesperson responded to questions from Echonetdaily saying that, ‘These sites were selected because Council owns or manages these areas with the idea being that the bush regeneration team would work to progressively remediate, enhance and protect these sites.’
However, if the zoning of these sites already protects them or, as in the case of Butler Street Reserve, if they don’t have a permanent agreement with the state government for its long term protection, ‘then it diminishes the issue of protection,’ points out Ms Barham.
Paying for protection
Setting aside these sites is designed to compensate for the loss of native vegetation on the site where the Byron bypass is being built. Yet the cost of setting aside and maintaining these compensatory sites is a cost that will fall directly to Council, rather than being included in the bypass budget, according to the report.
‘As this report is related to the Byron Bay Bypass it’s unclear why the funds [required for the compensatory sites] have not been attributed to the budget for the bypass,’ said Ms Barham.
The proposal by staff is that Council increase the budget of Council’s bush regeneration team to cover the extra costs of regenerating and maintaining the sites. However, in their report to Council staff recognise that unless the money for the works is identified from currently allocated resources then the council deficit will increase to $194,400 for the 2019/2020 financial year.
A Council spokesperson said, ‘It is important to note that no decision was made on any additional environmental work on any site, with Councillors to discuss this in more detail at a workshop.’