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Byron Shire
April 22, 2024

Refusal of Broadwater floodplain development welcomed but risk of bird kills remain

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Site of 60 Lot Residential Subdivision on Rileys Hill Road, Broadwater. Photo supplied

The decision to refuse the development application (DA) to create a sixty-lot residential subdivision on flood-prone land on Rileys Hill Road, Broadwater (DA2023/0100) close to the Richmond River by Richmond Valley Council (RVC) has been welcomed by locals.

The DA was put forward by Ardill Payne & Partners less than a year after the 2022 floods which saw that area flood significantly. 

‘It came as a surprise to us that an application for a subdivision in an area such as this was even accepted by Council last year -– less than 12 months after extensive flooding of the area,’ explained Ian Drinkwater, President of Evans Head Residents For Sustainable Development (EHRSD).

‘What were both the applicant and council thinking? This came even after the state government at the time made it abundantly clear that there was to be no future residential development on flood prone land (and particularly floodplains). We thought the application would have been rejected outright at the outset of the process. Instead, the application came back to the public for comment on no less than three separate occasions’.

The proposed 60 Lot Residential Subdivision on Rileys Hill Road, Broadwater was refused. Photo supplied

Flood, fire and diversity

The refusal listed a number of reasons including ‘…issues of flood risk associated with the development’ and failure of the application to ‘… satisfactorily address flooding impacts, bushfire impacts, and biodiversity impacts…’ such that the development would not ‘…on balance…..result in a positive impact for the community.’ 

The refusal notice also indicated that there was not enough information supplied to address ‘bushfire assessment reporting detailing required fire trails’ and the ‘full extent of vegetation removal’.

Mr Drinkwater said that it was entirely appropriate for the DA to be refused given first, its location on a floodplain near the Richmond River at Broadwater, second, the depth of the flood waters in 2022 at this site and third on the fact that reliance had been placed on out-of-date flood information. 

‘The problems with this application were compounded by the complete failure to, in any way, take into consideration future changes to flood regimes associated with climate change and sea level rises which, in turn affect river flows and heights.

Locals area calling for the site at Rileys Hill Road, Broadwater to be rezoned. Photo supplied

Time to rezone

‘Now the application for residential development had been rejected that it is time for the land to be appropriately rezoned to reflect its flood-prone status so that public resources are not wasted on further applications for residential development on the site. Similar comments might be made about the Iron Gates at Evans Head which was also bushfire and flood prone where zoning for residential development was made 40 years ago. We know better now and should act accordingly in our planning’.   

Duck kill at Salty Lagoon, 5 December 2005. Photo supplied

Bird kills and sewage

An ongoing issue for the area is the impact of the Evans Head Sewerage Treatment Plant (EHSTP) that allows treated effluent from the plant drain into a waterway that runs into Broadwater National Park. Historically this has led to pollution of the site and fish and bird kills. The sewage from the Broadwater development was proposed to be transported to the Evans Head STP for processing. 

Salty Lagoon, 2004. Photo supplied

‘The effluent from the EHSTP has a high pH compared with the surrounding environment and still contains nutrients, the very same nutrients which created problems in Salty Lagoon in the Park leading to a major bird and fish kill in 2005. The countryside is green where the nutrients flow,’ explained Mr Drinkwater.   

While the effluent at the EHSTP has been cleaned up to some degree since the 2005 fish and bird kills ‘the nutrients at the bottom of the lake were never removed and the dredging regime which shut off the lake from the creek more than ten years ago has failed and a new waterway has established itself between the two. There is still algal bloom in the non-monitored area at the southern end of Salty Lakes from time to time and we expect to see it again as summer comes and the dry continues,’ he said.

Dredging and pumping spoil to block connection between Salty Lagoon and Salty Creek in 2012. Photo supplied

Mr Drinkwater indicated that further pollution of the Salty Lake system was compounded by the recent burnoff in the National Park in wetlands and areas adjacent to the lake. 

‘The EPA has identified burnoff residues as being high in nutrients, the very kind of nutrients which caused problems for the lake in the first place and which are well-known fertilisers.  There are limits to what the environment can do with regard to the services it provides to the community for cleaning up the pollutants we create, services we take for granted. The environment is not being given a fair go particularly with burnoffs which are relatively frequent.’

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