The Byron bypass referral to the Federal government relates to the presence of the Threatened Ecological Community that is the primary habitat pot the nationally critically endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail on the proposed bypass route. It is now open for public comment.
The Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy (DoEE) officially placed The Byron Bay Town Centre Bypass, Byron Bay, NSW (EPBC 2019/8562) referral yesterday and it can be accessed at: http://epbcnotices.environment.gov.au/invitations/. Public comment can be made until 13 November.
Eagle eyed locals were quick to notice that an important illustration was missing from the initial submission. They pointed out that its exclusion meant the submission failed to provide the necessary information in relation to the area that was surveyed in the lowland rainforest assessment.
Byron Shire Council (BSC) then supplied the document to the DoEE and with a little more pressure the DoEE has extended the 10 days allowed for public responses by an extra day to 13 November.
‘The proponent requested the department publish additional information to provide greater clarity on the proposed action, requesting the department update Attachment 10 to include an illustration showing quadrat and transect locations, and to publish two project maps at Attachment 3, to provide greater clarity on the proposed action,’ said a departmental spokesperson.
‘The public comment period was extended to 13 November 2019, to allow the public the full 10 business days to comment on the referral.’
While there have been further mistakes and omissions identified in the referral no further extensions have been granted.
‘The community has a small window of opportunity to have their say about the impact of stage 2 of the Byron bypass on the critically endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail and its primary habitat,’ said local Greens MP Tamara Smith. Ms Smith has provided information online regarding the Byron bypass and how to comment on the referral.
However, local Greens councillor Michael Lyon has weighed into the debate telling The Echo that, ‘Attempts by Tamara to influence the process currently underway are misguided. This is a regulated process under the EPBC Act and science will dictate the outcome, not politics and pro-formas. I’d sooner have our state member focus on the vast swathes of land clearing in NSW for crops and pasture, rather than our tiny bit for essential infrastructure right next to the town.’
Jan Barham, former BSC Mayor and MLC, said that if the Endangered Lowland Rainforest Threatened Ecological Community, which is the primary habitat of the critically endangered Mitchell’s rainforest snail, had been identified then it should have raised a red flag for the state government in the biobanking approval process.
‘It is unlikely that the state government would have given approval for that route with both the Endangered Lowland Rainforest Threatened Ecological Community and the Mitchell’s rainforest snail,’ said Ms Barham.
Ms Barham has also questioned BSC’s choice not to make the documents they were supplying to the DoEE public prior to submission, particularly considering the short time frame allowed for analysis and response from the community.
‘I note that Council received this assessment from Geolink on 28 August 2019, well before the lodgement of the DOEE application on 11 October and failed to make it public, advise the community or report it to Council,’ she said in an email to Council staff, councillors and local MP Tamara Smith.
Ms Barham also highlighted the fact that the community had requested that BSC defer signing contracts for the work on the bypass in April and May this year to allow for the assessment of the area in relation to the Nationally Critically Endangered Lowland Rainforest Threatened Ecological Community.
‘Also, Council twice denied my request for permission to allow an independent ecologist to survey the southern area of the bypass footprint, particularly the area described by BSC Vegetation Mapping 2017 as Subtropical Rainforest. This information is also the subject of the BEC GIPA application that has been lodged.
Original DA was in rail corridor
The original development application (DA) that was lodged in April 2001 for the main bypass was to extend ‘all the way down the western side of the rail corridor to cross link with browning Street through a council owned corridor north of Mitre 10’ as stated in the BSC ordinary meeting of 24 October, 2006.
‘This route would’ve impacted on a very small area of the threatened ecological community adjacent to the rail tracks and would not have fragmented a larger area of approximately 2ha of SEPP 14 wetland as this route is.’
Ms Barham has also pointed out that a 6 May 2014 premier and cabinet report looked at the delivery of the bypass, rail and walking and cycling track stating that, ‘It may also be possible to include both the rail trail, bypass and proposed Byron Bay Community and Tourist Rail Shuttle within the corridor’.
‘Byron Shire was once regarded as biodiversity protection leader,’ said Ms Barham in the email to councillors and council staff. ‘I urge everyone to consider our collective role, this is our responsibility, this is our home and we are bound by law to protect it.’
Limitations on file size requirements by the DoEE have meant that compression has led to some ‘poor quality/illegible documents’ says BSC but they have looked at uploading ‘additional attachments to increase the legibility of those portions’.
The DoEE have advised that their decision on the referral is due on 27 November 2019.