Thursday 27 September 2012


Following the 31st August public meeting on the threat the proposed Clarence Valley Pacific Highway upgrade will have to the Coastal Emu, John Edwards wrote to Bob Higgins on behalf of the Clarence Environment Centre. Bob Higgins is General Manager, Pacific Highway, Roads and Maritime Services of NSW (formerly the Roads and Traffic Authority).

Below is an edited extract from the letter which questions the RMS' plans for the proposed route for the highway through the Clarence Valley.

The North Coast Environment Council(NCEC), the Clarence Environment Centre (CEC), and other local  conservation groups, have always claimed that the 'motorway' concept for the Clarence Valley is 'over-kill'. The section of highway between Coffs Harbour and Ballina undeniably carries the lowest traffic volumes of anywhere along Highway One from Warrnambool in Victoria to Gympie in Queensland. So why a separate motorway?

We have always asserted that a simple addition of two more lanes to the current highway is all that is needed, and would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. There would need to be minor straightening, and diversions around South Grafton and the hamlets of Ulmarra and Tyndale. There are already two sections of divided road, at Shark Creek and Cowper, that are perfectly adequate for the amount of traffic using the highway for the foreseeable future, and provide the safety levels demanded by the public.

We also assert that if that course of action had been pursued, the section of highway upgrade from Wells Crossing to at least Maclean could now have been completed at minimal cost. We acknowledge that that route has flooding problems, something that is likely to worsen over time with predicted sea level rise. However, I point out that the preferred route is only flood-proofed to a one in twenty year flood level, which means traffic would sometimes need to transfer to the New England Highway for 2 or 3 days, as is already the case; hardly an insurmountable problem.

To support our argument even further, the RTA (now the RMS) has identified that 70% of Pacific Highway road-users in the Clarence Valley are local commuters that will continue to use the existing highway, and that the existing road will also be upgraded to 4 lane status for safety reasons, bypassing Ulmarra in the process. So where is the logic for building a totally separate, highly environmentally damaging motorway, to cater for just 30% of the total traffic volume?

We believe the current bypass plan will not only be a disaster for the Coastal Emu and the scores of other threatened species  that will be directly impacted  (See CVCC Blog on Coastal Emu) , but will also be disastrous for Grafton, with the longest off-ramps in the country (12km from the south, and a further 30km to the north).

Finally, we also believe it is not too late to reassess the entire Clarence Valley proposal.

        - John Edwards

Tuesday 25 September 2012


Forests NSW have shown yet again that it is incapable of following legal requirements to protect biodiversity in the forests owned by the people of NSW.

Forests NSW are allowing  logging in Koala High Use Areas  in Royal Camp State Forest, 16 km south-west of Casino in northern NSW.  This is despite the fact that logging is prohibited within 20 metres of Koala High Use Areas.

This is yet another breach that the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA)  has identified in this area.( For detailed information see NEFA website.)

NEFA has already appealed several times to NSW Government Ministers to implement the law to stop the illegal logging in Koala High Use Areas.  They have again appealed to ministers (Robyn Parker, Minister for the Environment, and Katrina Hodgkinson, Minister for Primary Industries) to take action.

While those concerned about the protection of this iconic threatened species can hope that these politicians will at last take their responsibilities seriously and bring Forests NSW into line, the past records of both Parker and Hodgkinson indicate that this is unlikely.

Friday 14 September 2012


The NSW Government's release of its Strategic Land Use Policy does nothing to allay the concerns of those worried about the long-term impacts of both coal seam gas and coal mining.

Some concerns which have already been identified about this complex policy are listed below. 

Firstly, despite farmers' hopes of real protection being afforded to prime agricultural land, no farming land has been quarantined from mining in areas already mapped as Strategic Agricultural Land in the Upper Hunter and New England Northwest regions.  Mapping is still to be done elsewhere, including the North Coast – but obviously the government has decided that no farm land, however important for food production, will be quarantined from mining anywhere in the state. The fact that licences have been renewed on the North Coast before the area has been mapped suggests that the mapping is mere window dressing.

Secondly, the moratorium on fracking (hydraulic fracturing of rock to release gas) has been dropped.  The Government has introduced a code of practice for this controversial activity but just how effective this will be in preventing the introduction of toxic chemicals into gas wells or in preventing damage to aquifers remains to be seen.

Thirdly, the policy fails dismally to deal with the major issue of disposal of the large volumes of wastewater (usually heavily polluted) produced as a result of CSG mining.  This water is usually contained in evaporation ponds which may be effective in dry times but which can fail in wet weather or when too much water is produced.  Overflows lead to pollution of surrounding land and streams and vegetation death.

The Government has renamed these evaporation ponds 'temporary holding ponds'.  Just how temporary they will be is questionable.  We saw this same "temporary" exercise in semantics and spin in relation to a wastewater pond outside Casino in June.  (The Government had banned construction of CSG evaporation ponds in July 2011 but, despite this, construction of a pond was permitted outside Casino some months ago.  The Government claimed that this pond was a "holding pond" approved by Richmond Valley Council.   See CVCC Blog Post on CSG Protest near Casino )

Fourthly, the policy gives no protection to important conservation lands.  The biodiversity hotspot of the Pilliga(in central NSW), which has already suffered from poor management practice by CSG miners, continues to be in danger. Leard State Forest, another important area which was mapped as tier one biodiversity land, is destined to be bulldozed for an open cut coal mine.

Fifthly, the release of the Strategic Land Use Policy has pre-empted the Governments' response to the Report of the Legislative Council Inquiry into Coal Seam Gas. The Report tabled on 1st May contained 35 recommendations for Government action. The Government's response is due on 1st November.        See NSW Parliament Coal Seam Gas Inquiry website

The reaction to the announcement of the Government's policy from a range of community interests has shown, yet again, how out of touch this Government is with the community it is supposed to be representing.  

The strength of opposition to coal seam gas mining in parts of the NSW North Coast was clearly demonstrated in a referendum conducted earlier this month during local council elections in the Lismore Local Government Area (LGA).  87% opposed CSG mining in the Lismore LGA.  

It is unlikely that the community will accept Planning Minister Brad Hazzard's  claim that the government has the "right balance to protect agricultural land, water and the environment."  

Obviously the Government's spin doctors will have a busy time trying to convince the community that it has not been seriously "dudded" in the interests of the miners.