David Pont, Indonesia
The concerns around Council’s plan to short-circuit effluent to the Belongil estuary centre on assessment process and impacts on the estuary.
Council ran a lesser Part 5 assessment, submitted a licence application to the EPA on 2 September and received a licence on 3 September. Almost a same-day service. Done and dusted. Why then should any of us worry?
I live overseas, but why am I moved to express concern? First, in recent years we’ve had the beautiful writings of Dr Mary Gardner in The Echo about the deep ecology of these coastal waterways and how they work, raising spiritual values as well as environmental ones. This reminds us that we won’t be healthy as a people while our waterways are in their present state, with constant fish kills.
Second, I grew up around the estuary. As a teenager my friends and I chased flathead in it, explored its quiet reaches watching ospreys swooping on mullet, and surfed the sandbanks at its entrance. I’d like to see it healthy for future generations – an entirely practical goal.
Third, the Belongil estuary is one of the most important waterways in Australia, partly because of its iconic Byron location as an example for others; but mainly because so much of its catchment was wetland, at least a third. It means that wetland drainage has had an outsize effect, but as well, when it is rehabilitated, it will deliver huge benefits. Pouring more effluent into it when proven alternatives are available is loading up a truckful of problems for the community and future councils.
This Council project is in effect a Clayton’s ocean outfall to take a planned development increase of 43 per cent, but the volumes of effluent are likely to severely damage the estuary on their way out. The situation has eerie parallels to what happened in the 1990s: Council of that day attempted to run a big increase in STP capacity with an uncertain destination for the effluent, the community said ‘No’. A Planning Commissioner was called in and ruled the existing assessment was insufficient. The result: a nine-year development moratorium.