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Byron Shire
December 1, 2023

West Byron – wetland or suburb?

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Comb-crested jacana bird at Byron wetlands. Image supplied.

Aslan Shand

Turning the West Byron housing development site into a wetland for excess effluent from the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is a possible solution to its increased output, says Greens MP Tamara Smith and Byron Shire councillor Cate Coorey.

Currently, the excess effluent flows from the wetland STP through farming land, making it useless to local farmers.

Those landowners had agreed prior to 2002 to carry a flow of one or two megalitres a day across their property, via farm drains and the Union Drain, to the Belongil Estuary. Yet it has been consistently higher than this.

Council staff predict that by 2025, demand will exceed the current licensed capacity of seven megalitres a day. 

Responding to recent Echo articles by Byron STP designer David Pont (Future of the Belongil and the stealthy increase in sewage capacity: Part 1; Effluent for Belongil Creek or a sustainable blueprint for Belongil recovery? Part 2), local Greens MP, Tamara Smith, says, ‘Could Council purchase the West Byron lands and deliver on its commitment to expand the wetland area required to buffer the Sewerage Treatment Plant?’

‘This could potentially be an amazing win-win for Byron Shire Council.

Acid sulfate soil impact on the Belongil drains. Photo supplied

‘This could take the West Byron mega-development off the table permanently; offset the environmental impacts of acid sulfate soils (ASS) and pollution on the Belongil Estuary and Cape Byron Marine Park, and expand the wetland area that supports the STP’.

In 2015, Council sought alternatives to running the excess water over local farmers’ lands. It recently approved a new route, using stormwater drains in the Byron A&I Estate.

This route will operate in conjunction with the existing route through the farms. However, Mr Pont points out that this will have negative impacts on the acid sulfate soils (ASS), the Belongil Estuary and is equivalent to an ocean outfall, a solution that was rejected by the community in the early 2000s.

Locals have fought against the West Byron since the state government imposed a zoning to allow housing over six years ago.

A path to degradation

Councillor and long time activist against the West Byron development, Cate Coorey, also responded to Mr Pont’s articles, telling The Echo that, ‘It is evident in all the science and all the studies that this site [West Byron] was never suitable for intensive development’.

‘The state government let us down by ignoring Council, the community and the many studies when they went ahead and rezoned the land [for housing].

‘It would be great if we were able to use some of that land to enable the Belongil and its catchment to recuperate and function how it’s supposed to, and to create resilience in our wetlands.

‘We will especially need this, as our waterways are the frontline for climate impacts.

‘Where we should be doing remediation and rehabilitations we are actually on a path to further degradation with so much development planned for this area’.

Ms Smith also said that Mr Pont and other experts in the field have demonstrated that, ‘We need to act pretty quickly and expand the wetland area surrounding the [Byron STP] project with the expected growth in population and development already slated’.

‘Our community, led by Byron Shire Council, has shown great innovation and forward planning with its investment in the Byron STP and recycling effluent’.

to replenish our wetlands and counteract the negative impacts of development on our environment’.

Councillor Coorey also pointed to the long term benefits of West Byron being returned to the community through a wetland project as proposed by Mr Pont.

‘I, and most residents of Byron, would love to see a substantial portion of this land returned to the thriving wetland that we could all enjoy,’ Cr Coorey told The Echo.

‘It could enable the Belongil to survive and thrive – with all the biodiversity that comes with it – not to mention the blue carbon impact and the resilience quotient that would add.’

‘Proceeding with extensive building on a wetland that will likely result in delivering acid sulfate into waterways as more heavy inundation occurs, added to sea levels rising and increased storm events and tidal swells, is a madness’.

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  1. great idea, but two main drawbacks:
    1. This is privately owned land – will Council pay the $20+ million the owners would want?
    2. I doubt the current zoning (residential) permits sewage treatment – meaning the site would need to be rezoned AGAIN! (more time and money)…


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