The Byron Shire Council (BSC) has now officially referred itself to the Federal Department of Environment and Energy (DoEE) over the presence of the critically endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail, and possibly other species, present on the proposed Byron bypass route.
‘The objective of the referral is to determine whether the removal of vegetation and road construction in these areas will have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance,’ director of Infrastructure Phil Holloway said.
Council had relied on work by consultants GHD, who also work for the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine, to previously determine that they didn’t need to self-refer to the DoEE. In their report to council GHD stated that ‘it is considered unlikely that the proposal would have any significant indirect impacts on habitat for the Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail.’
It was the work of concerned locals alerting the federal DoEE to the presence of the snail that finally led to the BSC self-referring.
‘In a pre-clearing survey on 8 August 2019 three Mitchell’s Rainforest Snails were found,’ said a Byron Shire Council spokesperson.
‘In preparation for our submission to the Australian government’s DoEE more surveys were done and more snails were found. These surveys were not limited to the road corridor and included other land in the Byron Bay area. The intention of these surveys was not to locate as many snails as possible, but rather to determine the distribution of the local population of snails and their habitat in the proximity of the bypass.’
40 snails found
‘The information presented to the Australian government included the number of snails found, where they were found and therefore the extent of their habitat. These targeted surveys found 40 snails in total.
‘Consultants GHD and Geolink, were engaged to prepare information for Council’s referral to the DoEE.’
Use of GHD questioned
In November 2017 a motion was passed by Byron Shire Council that Council would not contract companies that were involved in contract work for the development and operation of the Adani Carmichael Mine. Council had engaged GHD prior to this for work on the bypass. However, Stop Adani Byron Shire (SABS) are questioning why Council has once again engaged GHD to work on the referral process to the DoEE.
‘This referral to the Commonwealth is a new service which Byron Council has commissioned GHD to undertake in the last few months. GHD was at leat careless for not alerting Council to the presence of the Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail in the first instance,’ said SABS spokesperson Kathryn McConnochie.
‘By commissioning this new work from GHD, Byron Council is breaching its own resolution. Council needs to make the original scope of their contract with GHD publicly available.’
Locals seek answers
The Byron Environment Centre (BEC) recently submitted a GIPA (FOI) request to BSC for Byron bypass vegetation mapping and species surveys. However, BSC responded saying that the request involves 32,000 documents and it would cost BEC over $20k to access them.
‘The Council response to the BEC’s request gives further reason for concern,’ said BEC president John Lazarus.
‘We now know that there were three critically endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest Snails found in the pre-investigation, prior to the bulldozing of all the paperbark and palm forest along Butler Street. But we only know because the BEC lodged a GIPA request for the pre-investigation documents. A request that only came about after hearing allegations on the grapevine. Too late for the community to raise any objections for any snails hidden in the bulldozer’s path. And that is the BEC’s concern – roadblocks to information, while the Council bulldozes ahead with the development, that also appears to bypass council’s lawful responsibilities under the Native Species Legislation, and the community’s oversight and aspirations for an ecologically healthy future.’
The Council has since clarified that they are prepared to work with the BEC to streamline the request. They have confirmed with The Echo that this will not take the GIPA back to the beginning of the process.