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Queanbeyan/Palerang council starts clearing wildlife habitat on contested new road corridor

Cutting trees for EDE

As these images show, the chainsaws have moved in to the controversial Ellerton Drive Extension road corridor in January, under the direction of council administrator Tim Overall and against the documented wishes of a sizeable community segment.

Environmental destruction in the river corridor and escarpment and loss of community amenity in the suburbs are major strikes against a road that has been called a gift to developers and that has divided Queanbeyan’s former elected council, other elected representatives and the residents. Graham Franklin-Brown, who (full disclosure) lives near the proposed road, has his say after a day of watching the contractors remove big trees.

EDE-two-trees12 January 2016: Well, it has finally begun.

After having its first proposal for an environmental offset declared invalid, the council has pulled another ‘offset’ parcel of land elsewhere from its capacious sleeves and has gained approval from the federal government under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to begin the ugly process of destroying habitat trees along the route of the proposed Ellerton Drive Extension.

In December the Bulletin reported that council was seeking federal government permission to destroy 55 hollow-bearing trees and 45 termite mounds where the threatened Rosenberg’s goanna can lay its eggs. A decision was expected by early March after a thorough assessment but came in the second week of January. The EPBC Act applies because the trees might be part of the nationally threatened grassy box gum woodland ecosystem

Council employees moved on site during the week, and with the protection of the local police, and the assistance of contracted wildlife ‘experts’, are cutting down habitat trees and bulldozing termite mounds in preparation for road construction activities scheduled to begin later this year.

Labor and the Greens call for halt

Initial reaction from residents and community groups is fury over the haste with which council is progressing this phase of the development. Labor and the Greens don’t support the EDE proceeding at this time and question both the environmental and financial cost to ratepayers and the undemocratic administrative process.

Labor candidate for Monaro Bryce Wilson told the Bulletin: “Simply put, this project should not progress until a new council is elected.

“This project has a large environmental footprint, clearing trees and bushland, a large debt burden for the local council, and a business case that should be further investigated.

“Given these issues, I would call on our local state member to take some leadership and ask council and its administrators to push pause on clearing works and the calling of building tenders, to allow council elections to be held as soon as possible, for the merged council to consider its future, and a fully democratic decision making process to be made to Queanbeyan’s traffic issues.

The Greens have also spoken out in a press release with Greens NSW Environment & Transport Spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, and Australian Greens Senator for NSW, Senator Lee Rhiannon, calling on the council administrator and the state representative to halt plans for the EDE because of environmental damage that it will cause as well as the lack of transparency.

Dr Faruqi said: “The Greens are calling for at least a stay on constructing this project until the business case is released and there has been a full examination of the alternatives, such as upgrading currently congested intersections.

“There are significant environmental costs of proceeding and no amount of biodiversity offsetting can change this.  It seems as if the un-elected council is determined to push this through, whatever the environmental or economic cost to the community.

“I understand that the local member [Barilaro] has requested more information from the Roads and Maritime Services on this project and on alternatives. Mr Barilaro needs to step up for his community and stop the bulldozers.”

Senator Rhiannon said:  “Late last year the Senate supported a Greens motion calling on the [federal] Minister to decline approval of the extension and for the government to support the council to develop more sustainable transport solutions.

“It is disappointing that the council has ignored this call and the wishes of the local community.  If the council is rushing this project through to avoid scrutiny at the ballot box, it is up to the other representatives in the area like Mr Barilaro to step in, she said.

Both sides of this environmental battle are fully aware that there is a narrow ‘window of opportunity’ to complete the process of destruction before the end of January.

After that, wildlife will presumably return to the sites for breeding and, finding their homes destroyed, move on to ‘greener’ pastures somewhere else in an already overstressed ecosystem.

It’s a bit like environmental slum clearance, isn’t it administrator?

Well done Lord Farqhuar, let’s clean up the swamp, and hide all those messy critters that get in the way of driving unnecessary roads through our precious escarpment, so that developers can get easy access to the Queanbeyan river corridor.

At a local level, the destruction of habitat along the proposed EDE corridor is wholly consistent with the wholesale licence being offered to land managers by the NSW government to destroy whatever parts of the environment that are left standing in the face of development, political ambition, and greed.

As with a lot of decisions being made by the current administration, this activity should only have been decided on by the community, through its elected representatives, and not by an overtly politically-appointed administrator.

Council’s say

Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council has sent the Bulletin a letter outlining its position and justification for the road which has not wavered over the years.  We will publish this in coming days along with some response from local councillors from the last elected councils.

photos Asha Gare

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