The Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy (DoEE) has confirmed with The Echo that they are currently ‘in contact with the Byron Shire Council regarding their obligations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act’ (EPBC) in relation of the construction of the Byron bypass.
This is owing to the fact that Council did not refer themselves to DoEE in relation to the bypass’s potential impact on a matter of national environmental significance, that is, the impact it may have on the critically endangered Mitchell’s rainforest snails.
The Echo asked if the Commonwealth was ‘required to ensure that the council stops work or changes their approach to ensure that no further damage to the potential habitat of endangered species is incurred’. A DoEE spokesperson said, ‘The proponent [Byron Shire Council] will bear all risk if work continues at the site and a significant impact is identified.’
While Council has stated that ‘the work Council has undertaken on the bypass has been in keeping with the protocols and guidelines set out by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (formerly OEH)’, the permission to go ahead from the DoEE should have been approved prior to the NSW state approvals of the OEH.
‘If the Mitchell’s rainforest snails are present that throws into question the possibility that under the current biodiversity-offset laws that offsetting this with 40ha of degraded swampland may not be possible,’ says Ballina MP Tamara Smith.
The Byron Shire mayor’s invitation for another briefing for Ms Smith on the bypass has been willingly accepted.
‘The meeting this week will be the fourth or fifth time I have discussed my concerns about the bypass with the Byron Shire mayor,’ she told The Echo.
‘I will be particularly focused on the Commonwealth environment laws that pertain to the Mitchell’s rainforest snail and the area identified as rainforest, and discrepancies between the Construction Management Plan by GHD that says the snails are there and the Environmental Impact Statement that says it’s unlikely they are there.
‘I’ll be asking for an independent survey. The precautionary principle embedded in the government’s planning laws demands that no stone remain unturned in terms of identifying accurately species that a development will impact upon. With a Greens-led council the community’s expectations are of course much higher,’ she said.
‘The community have legitimate expectations that with a Greens-led council and the emphatic Greens policy that does not support biodiversity offsetting that those councillors would be doing everything possible to identify correctly and transparently what species are there and their status.
‘I have had hundreds of constituents talk to me about this issue and it is incumbent on me to pursue these environmental concerns. In an era of extinction of species nothing less is expected of me as a Greens MP.’