The RMS - Roads and Maritime Services (previously known as the RTA) - continues to show a lack of concern about protecting important populations of native species. The route of its proposed Pacific Highway upgrade from north of Coffs Harbour to Ballina will have a devastating effect on many species because of the clearing of native vegetation and the increased likelihood of roadkill.
An important koala habitat area near Wardell, south of Ballina, is one area of concern. Recently ecologist Mark Graham wrote to local papers expressing his concern about a statement made about this area by the Highway Upgrade Manager. This letter is printed below.
Yesterday on the ABC Mr Bob Higgins, Pacific Highway upgrade manager for the RMS said about the proposed Broadwater to Ballina deviation "The route that was selected is mostly on cleared land." His statement is not correct. The reality is the proposed route will clear and sever intact corridors of forest and wetland that connect the Wardell heathland (part of the National Reserve System called the Ngunya-Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area) with the nationally significant forests (and koala habitats) of the Blackwall Range. Indeed these areas are recognised as some of the most important wildlife corridors in Ballina Shire.
What Mr Higgins has repeatedly failed to address is that the proposed route is several kilometers longer than the existing highway. It will require clearing lots of nationally important koala habitat and result in the isolation and permanent degradation of hundreds of hectares of adjacent koala habitat. It will clear and fragment the largest and most significant tracts of native vegetation in Ballina Shire.
The RMS policy about biodiversity states: "When managing biodiversity, RMS aims to: 1. Avoid and minimise impacts first. 2. Mitigate impacts where avoidance is not possible. 3. Offset where residual impacts cannot be avoided."
Mr Higgins has been informed (in person and in writing) since 2005 that building a highway along the proposed route will cause local extinctions of nationally protected species such as the koala and long-nosed potoroo. He knows there is no native vegetation, protected areas or culturally significant features along the existing highway between Broadwater and Ballina. He also knows that avoiding any impacts on biodiversity is readily achievable.
Mr Higgins, you have no excuse for killing Ballina's koalas.
- Mark Graham
This letter was published in The Daily Examiner on July 17, 2014.