Preliminary statement: I make the following statement in an effort to assist the Panel in coming to an appropriate set of recommendations to the Minister. As in my previous submission, I concentrated on the issues around biolink functionality, adequacy of investigations and treatment of certain species. The planning & policy considerations around these and finally some suggestions that could be made to the Minister in relation to better outcomes in future applications are also provided.
For context and understanding where my knowledge/information comes from I note that; I was the deputy Mayor of Bass Coast Shire Council when the council originally voted to approve a new mine in 2013. I was considered by my peers to be the ‘planning portfolio’ councillor and supported the application at that time to the surprise of my fellow councillors (as I was also considered by many to be the ‘environment portfolio’ councillor). I also successfully achieved budget support for the development and implementation of a Biodiversity Biolinks Policy, a testament of need/desire within the community where the operational budget already consumed around 85% of rates revenue.
I was a board director of the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve Inc 2013-2018, a board member appointment to its research committee, liaising with its related Southern Brown Bandicoot Regional Recovery Group (SBBRRG).
In 2015-2016 the Biosphere developed mapping of wildlife corridors throughout the Reserve including along the Western Port coast of Bass Coast Shire, this fed into identifying the Biolinks in the Bass Coast plan. In developing this submission, I have sought information and documentation from Mr David Nicholls (SGBRRG scientific researcher & founding Chair) and DELWP (Gippsland).
In assessing the suitability of the proposal, I believe it would be instructive for the Panel members to have in the back of their minds, just how negative, or perhaps positive, a refusal of this current application would be. My experience is that often, over a few years, things will change or requirements will be met and a new application is then made, often any losses are compensated for by product value rises or desirability. I will return to this consideration in summarising at the end of this submission. -----------------------------
Southern Brown Bandicoot, an indicator of health or decline:
After what appeared to me to be conflicting comments from expert evidence to the Panel, particularly on fauna values both on and off the site, I thought I ought to provide some additional evidence and opinion that might be considered in the planning process.
National parks have long been accepted as relatively secure refuges to sustain biodiversity, however statistics like, that by 11th Jan 2020 the wildfires of 2019-20 had impacted at least 60 per cent of over 50 national parks and nature reserves in Victoria (Ref 1- DELWP), and an extinction crisis more broadly, has meant smaller reserves of vegetation, particularly when linked for ecological connectivity, are more important than ever. An appreciation that reversing the losses to our natural systems, and improving our biodiversity, is essential for our own survival is now clear. David Attenborough makes the layman's case in his new book “A Life on Our Planet”, (Ref 2). Further, expert science is explaining that Australia’s ecosystems are collapsing (Ref 3 - Bergstrom DM, Wienecke BC, Hoff J, et al. 2021), and more locally it is suggested our planning and environment instruments aren’t keeping up with a Parliamentary Review underway, (Ref 4 – Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into). Decision makers need to step up.
These two imperatives require new priorities and land management actions. Existing precedents, policies and legislation are inadequate to address these new circumstances. The Bass Coast community has recognised these new imperatives. Its council, meshing the Western Port Biosphere, DELWP Gippsland and others, have an adopted Biodiversity Biolinks Plan developed, (hearing book 007320) and it would be unreasonable, under the current circumstances, to not give it due consideration in your advice to the Minister.
The conservation value of the cluster of partially fragmented reserves, private vegetation and public assets within this woodland corridor from Lang Lang to Grantville is enormously enhanced if these patches of bush are connected with wildlife biolinks (Clearly stated in the Regional Sand Extraction Strategy – Lang Lang to Grantville, page 007126 in the hearing book). Indeed, such links are essential to allow the natural dispersal of Southern Brown Bandicoot (SBB), (a nationally endangered species under the EPBC Act), unless a very expensive and problematic translocation program is implemented. There are three biodiversity plans that recognise the importance of biolinks, only one of which is cited in the expert advice to the Panel (Bass Coast Shire’s Biodiversity Biolinks Plan). The other two, the Western Port Biodiversity Plan, (Ref 5) and the Strategic Plan Healesville to Phillip Island Nature Link (Ref 6), are less prescriptive but they are further proof of the Western Port and the Bass Coast communities desire to protect and enhance vital biolinks. These both recognise the special opportunity to reconnect the landscape from Adams Creek, Lang Lang, to south of Granville, as a key corridor in the bigger picture.
Western Port Biosphere Biodiversity Plan, showing significance of the Grantville – Lang Lang corridor
Strategic Plan Healesville to Phillip Island Nature Link extent - note importance of Grantville strip.
Southern Brown Bandicoot are present in this woodland corridor (Lang Lang to Grantville) both with recent records from the SBBRRG records 2013-2016 (from personal discussions David Nicholls), DELWP & Parks Vic 2016, and recently confirmed by Ecology & Heritage Partners in a series of papers 2015-2019. Many of these records are included in the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, (accessed 2020) in the northern half of the corridor. There are historical records from this region, with records coming from the surveys by DELWP Arthur Rylah Institute in the 1970s. I also include Bass Coast Landcare records in a study involving hair trapping as opposed to camera trapping at the old Holden Proving Grounds site in 2013.
The EVC classification and mapping of the existing vegetation (DELWP data) and the work of Coates et al 2008 (Ref 7) establishes that much of the Bass Coast in our area of concern is high quality Southern Brown Bandicoot habitat. The various Heathy Woodlands, the Lowland Forest and Riparian Shrub are all EVCs used by Southern Brown Bandicoot. Recent work confirms another bandicoot becoming almost prolific in areas, the Long-nosed Bandicoot, discovered and confirmed by recent studies (Biosis 2013, BCLCN 2013, and EHP 2018-2019) is complicating our understanding of the distributions of these two species, but evidence of one indicates all likelihood the other can be present in the corridor.
The published and as yet unpublished results from a large survey around Western Port (with 1.35 million records from >2000 sites/deployments between 2011 to the present) show that the species has persisted, though there are often long periods between records at any one location (Ref 8, Nicholls et al. 2018).
It is believed the Southern Brown Bandicoot has a boom-and-bust life history. In very uncommon favourable years, the species breeds exceptionally well and disperses widely in the landscape where it might be detected where it hasn’t been for years previous. In normal years the population declines or it remains in low numbers perhaps unobserved. Thus, the remaining habitat that today connects the bushland and conservation reserves and waterlines is essential for the natural sustaining of the species. Without these connections, small local populations, random adverse events, including excess predation will cause the demise of the species.
It’s therefore possible and perhaps likely that the Southern Brown Bandicoot remains present but unobserved in this area of Bass Coast, as it does in our only other significant vegetated area, the southern coastal heathlands reserves (16km south). Clearly there is a range of expert opinion on the present status of the Southern Brown Bandicoot. State departments continues to rank the conservation status of the Southern Brown Bandicoot as ‘Near Threatened’ in Victoria (DSE 2007). It has this ‘lower’ ranking I believe as the species is oddly present in areas such as behind the Koo Wee Rup hospital and the rail easement there. Wouldn’t it be nice to link Lang Lang at the top of our corridor to this population! (Another aim of the Healsville to Phillip Island Nature Link Plan).
I believe the expert option, provided to the Planning Panel, that this species is unlikely to occur locally today (Aron Organ, hearing book 003388) may be premature and unduly pessimistic. Speaking with locals retired from employment at the Holden Proving Grounds they say “they never actually saw the critters, they just caught something out of the corner of their eye or felt a brush against trousers” when working out in the bush.
Community appreciation that little on the ground surveying has been gathered in many areas, including the site, has helped initiate a study underway now. An extensive camera trap survey of the bushland in public and private ownership to directly address the present status of the ground dwelling fauna, especially the Southern Brown Bandicoot (Ref 10 - Nicholls, 2020). This survey has extended the 220 m by 220 m grid (as defined by Ecology and Heritage Partners) to across the entire bushland patches of public land and private land with bushland fragments greater than 25 ha from Adams Creek Nature Conservation Reserve at the top of our corridor, south to Granville Nature Conservation Reserve and the private bush between and to the east of these reserves. The camera trapping survey is underway at these grid points in three nature conservation reserves and will cover a representative random selection of the points on private land.
Should we be assessing this project more rigorously on the assumption the SBB might be there, rather than “is unlikely to occur”? Should we be asking for further assessments before a decision is made?
What would the implications be for the proponent, and the values on their site be, if we delayed long enough to get some good data to ensure the appropriate course of action is taken? What is certain, is that suitable high-quality habitat remains, its significance is now being substantially upgraded. Further, Parks Victoria West Gippsland has invested heavily in a predator control program to protect the Southern Brown Bandicoot. DELWP (in its EBPC Southern Brown Bandicoot Species Conservation Strategy), Parks Victoria and the Southern Brown Bandicoot Regional Recovery Group have independently recognised that passive conservation management is unlikely to be sufficient and have begun scientific discussions on the merit of a proactive translocation management. DELWP Melbourne Strategic Assessment has initiated genetic studies to inform such management, and DELWP West Gippsland is to evaluate habitat requirements of the Southern Brown Bandicoot to inform a reintroduction programme.
Reintroduction programs are incredibly expensive. Wouldn’t it be a shame if an existing unobserved colony faded away, or a reintroduction had its ability to migrate through our site to find its niche and expand the species range, blocked by the removal of ‘an existing biolink’, I add the emphasis here and will discuss below?
It is worth noting that the SBB is often considered as an ‘indicator species’. It’s near impossible to assess every species’ needs that might be using an area, or capable of using it. If the SBB can survive there, then it’s a pretty good indication that a broad range of conditions are optimised for a strong and functional ecology. So even if we don’t assess the SBB specifically under biodiversity weighted offset mechanisms and planning more generally, it’s important that we address the needs of this species in terms of links and habitat, as that will ensure that a large proportion of other species are catered for too.
Note also that the revegetation species lists proposed contains only a very limited number of trees and small shrubs a greater effort should be made in tailoring to the needs of the bandicoot. This is addressed below in ‘without prejudice conditions’.
The existing Biolink:
During expert witness presentations it was variously stated that a biolink didn’t currently exist or that a much diminished version of what’s there would still function as a biolink. So, let’s start with DELWP’s definition, “Biolink zones are identified parts of the landscape where the functional ecological connectivity for biodiversity is enhanced and / or restored (my emphasis) to provide space for species (and consequently ecological communities) to self-adapt their distributions and abundances under changing climates through natural processes including: dispersal; re-colonisation; regeneration and restoration of ecological function (Mansergh and Cheal 2007)”.
Clearly it’s all about ‘functional ecological connectivity’ and I submit there are many community, council, State and Federal documents that explain the need for that level of connectivity, to ensure genetic diversity, as much as anything else, as a key to species survival.
The Bass Coast Council’s Biodiversity Biolinks Plan 2018 specifically refers to linkages; existing, desirable to create or to revegetate, between areas of high, or otherwise significant biodiversity value. The objectives of the Biolinks Plan include, identifying areas for landscape-scale connectivity among issues of strategic acting. At the Panel to date, there seems to have been some confusion around the mapping presented by the proponent in Mr Organ’s evidence, (hearing book page 003408). This particular diagram shows areas under the control of the council itself or other authorities that might assist, it largely avoids private land in the highlights, strategically, so as not to scare the horses so to speak (farmers get concerned when their land is highlighted).
I do however appreciate that the proponent provided diagram above is instructive in that it shows that the conservation revegetation ‘Area 5’ vegetation (in green between his highlights) is the only remaining contiguous strip of vegetation between the Grantville Bushland Reserve, Colbert Ck and the Grantville Nature Conservation Reserve to the South, and the Gurdies Nature Conservation Reserve and Deep Ck to the North. The white areas on the map left and right show either built up area and highway, existing mine or open farmland to the West and to the East un-revegetated proponent land and open farmlands for some considerable distance.
The Bass Coast Biodiversity Biolinks Plan design principles specifically includes this point; “Maintain (my emphasis) and improve existing connectivity along coastal areas and The Gurdies/Grantville vegetation blocks”, “Find linkages between coastal areas and the Strzelecki Ranges using rivers and creek lines as a primary source” which along with council roads make up the majority of linkages on Mr Organ presented diagram. The green area between his diagram certainly addresses the former point (maintain existing connectivity).
There is no doubt that the existing biolink was both identified and its width specified in the development of the BCSC Biodiversity Biolinks Plan. Below is a finer scale map of the Biolink mapping for the Grantville area in the plan, (Source DELWP without addition). The major remnant vegetation links are supplemented by sections of the original Area 2 from the Endorsed Conservation & Revegetation Plan plantings, shaded purple and achieving a minimum 200m wide native vegetation corridor.
The light green shaded areas are mostly re-vegetation corridors, suggested by various interested members of the community in developing the Plan. The yellow-shaded area is the 200m-wide coastal strip biolink and white the creeks/roadsides that do not unfortunately support a North-South link.
Prior to the development of the Bass Coast Biodiversity Biolinks Plan which was finalised in 2018, this area had already been identified as a native vegetation corridor. This fact was specifically noted in the section 173 Agreement which the company entered into as a requirement under the 2013 Permit. I think we can rule out any suggestion that this is not a desired biolink and that the width has not been a significant consideration (~200m). Reducing this to a sliver on either side of a quarry pit can be nothing but disaster in terms of connectivity.
The proposal now is to mine in this area of identified remnant woodlands. Approximately 150m wide blocks are proposed to be removed and rehabilitated in stages over 25-30 years. As the Section 173 agreement Area 2 plantings intended to be completed by about the start of 2018 have not been done, we will be left with just fragmented strips (zero to 50m wide) of the existing woodlands remaining on either side, not even connected to other existing woodlands. The best arial photo showing existing vegetation cover is in the vegetation assessment mapping for offsets (hearing book 000375), copied below: I understand that bracken fern links the final connection at the top of the remnant woodland. Not absolutely 100% connected perhaps but birds of prey are not going to dive into bracken and foxes likewise, as anyone who knows bracken knows, you’ll hesitate to race in as the dried and broken stems are like spears.
At any rate, legally the hammer shaped section at the top of the CSEP is now defined as a ‘Native Vegetation Corridor’ that cannot be used for any other purpose, (under the s173 agreement, having past the timeframes for this classification).
The two thin strips of retained vegetation can be seen here as A & B.
The few images following attempt to show progression from today’s conditions as extraction and rehabilitation progress:
Over the initial years or so of proposed CSEP operation, access and an initial quarrying and rehabilitation seems designed to cover off an area outside the designated Area 5 (eating into what is now referred to as Area 2, a ‘Native Vegetation Corridor’).
Over the next 5-10 years the pit width and depth in particular really impacts:
Can we argue that the biolink is still functional under these conditions. Yes, there will hopefully be some plantings emerging on the East but they are still too young to be a desired path or provide safe passage. Pinch points for predation abound!
In the 15-20 year timeframe a significant amount of vegetation plantings have emerged but the pit hole now makes access to the two remaining remnant vegetation strips problematic and revegetation is only becoming of significant size in the North. We also have the fine-medium pit expanded to within 100 m of the CSEP edge to the West where the best vegetation is. There is also a significant pinch point at the base of the Eastern remnant wedge and at the bund on the West of the pit.
This biolink will never be what it was (not within the hundred years or so that it takes for tree hollows, understorey and forest debris to create a natural link again, but we can hope that at some stage over the coming decades, the combination of the rehabilitation and revegetation and the new plantings in Areas 2 and 3, will provide an at least equivalent biolink to what exist today in terms of functionality. The Panel needs to make an assessment in advising the Minister if the 20 and more years of diminished connectivity can be justified. It must consider what if anything can be done to mitigate the loss as part of that consideration.
Significance of the corridor (Lang Lang to Grantville): This is the last woodland corridor in all of Bass Coast, and for that matter well beyond. Roughly 10-12km long, from just below Lang Lang in the North, and just outside the shire, to Grantville and beyond to the South. The reader will be pleased to read that I won’t expand here, other than in point form:
Ultimately all our lives depend on areas like these remaining healthy and connected,
There are other tenuous links along the corridor but still a chance to avoid losing their values,
There are extraordinary ecological parcels along the corridor,
Ideal habitats for a vast range of unusual species from;
Southern Brown Bandicoot,
Tea-tree finger fungus,
International visitors that breed or feed here,
and so many more it’s hard to comprehend.
Existing reserves are too small to ecologically stand alone,
These species are as tenuous as the links being discussed unless we act urgently,
In Bass Coast there is just one remaining forest to protect, what will our children say of our actions?
Planning, Vegetation removal & acceptable environmental outcomes: Further support for the need to protect and have functional these linkages can be found in the Government’s Regional Sand Extraction Strategy. The mapping, probably not coincidentally, shows a contiguous linkage of the reserves with the arrow going right through the site of our biolink. While it is acknowledged that, “The overall aim of the strategy is to ensure protection of sand resources in the Lang Lang – Grantville area and provide for: - the extraction of these resources and - the rehabilitation of sites, in a manner which protects significant environmental, economic and social values of the area” (DELWP response, page ES-i). A stated objective of the strategy is also, “to protect (my emphasis) and enhance the biodiversity of flora and fauna in the area. This cannot be the case if connectivity is not preserved.
It is now incumbent on decision makers to find the provisions, and the courage to interpret them, to ensure acceptable environmental practice is applied, to protect this vital link at Grantville for the benefit of nature, the whole corridor and the people of Victoria. This has to be in the now, we can no longer keep doing harm here and there, expecting all will be offset or made right at some indeterminate point in the future.
Despite being on the Council that issued the original planning permit and use of offsets, my ongoing experience in local government planning has led me to the conclusion that offsets, more often than not, have a balance toward harm rather than good. In this case the s173 agreed 3 year planting that would have established an alternative biolink did not happen. Now this non-compliance with the s173 agreement in itself may or may not be a planning consideration, but the situation has changed. It seems we now have the only connection, to be severed, and with an increased time and scale of impact.
Offsets must adopt a precautionary approach in assessing impacts and the benefits of offsets. If there is a threat that the biolink severance will cause serious or irreversible damage and there is scientific uncertainty as to the extent of possible damage, then a proportionate response is that the offsets alone, regardless of their future value cannot be considered to offset the possible damage on their own. This means the Veg offsetting/s69 arrangements cannot just offset more habitat elsewhere as that does not address the potential harm from the biolink loss. The severance should either not happen, or an additional measure must be put in place to reduce the severity of the possible harm. BCSC are I believe requesting a delay in the mining/severance activity for a period of time sufficient for the replacement biolink to the East (Area 2 & 3 in the s173 agreement) to establish to a degree that it covers the proposed loss. This would require a condition that periodically assesses that ‘alternative biolink’ against an assessed reduction from the proposed severance at each stage of biolink removal and rehabilitation. Mr Gobbo on behalf of the proponent says, why should a delay happen to the CSEP when the staging makes veg/impact less and minimal? Well this is just nonsense, there is only a fraction of functionality in the remaining vegetation and it is only improved slowly as the revegetation areas will be a shadow of the remnant forest for decades.
It is time to decide whether that phrase, ‘acceptable environmental practice/outcomes’, has increased weight in the balancing of outcomes. Does a longer 10-20 year diminution of the biolink at increased impact change the weightings in the balance and where does ‘acceptable’ lie today? We also need to consider whether this is just a case dismissed by the DELWP native vegetation removal clauses (52.17, etc), or more than that. I submit that from an environmental point of view these provisions consider vegetation just as ‘habitat’ to be offset. If some ‘habitat’ must be lost, then we’ll compensate for that with an at least equivalent amount nearby, or at least to support similar species in the same bioregion.
What’s not addressed is that this is not just a bit of habitat, it needs consideration as an absolutely critical link that may well determine the fate of current and future biodiversity. It needs increased weight of consideration in the situation we now find ourselves in. The proponent’s assertion that they have addressed ‘acceptable environmental practice’ is hollow. Through 52.09, etc, we require additional measures to address ecosystem survival, if not a complete rejection of the proposal at this time. Assertions that Practice Note 89 have already taken these issues out of local permitting’s hands are preposterous and offensive.
Ecosystem survival, not just habitat, play a large part in the planning scheme. Words like “at minimal detriment to the environment”, “To ensure that use and development of land for extractive industry does not adversely affect the environment or amenity of the area during or after extraction”, etc, abound. Offensive it is that the unanimous vote of 8 councillors, a broad representation of our community, to advise rejection at this time should be ignored by the proponent’s lawyer in advising a Minister of our State Government.
Joint community and government agreements like the Regional Sand Strategy include the words and actions needed - “Conservation measures on private land are necessary to prevent conservation reserves becoming further isolated through the gradual loss of connecting habitat corridors. Isolation is likely to affect the long-term function and viability of the reserve system, as there would be limited or no opportunity for genetic exchange or recolonisation for many species” (18.104.22.168).
DELWP say environmental risks should be identified in the Works Plan and indeed they should, to assess, report on and have risks and non-compliance dealt with. But that’s once a permit is issued, and the planning process now has identified concerns. DELWP should be asked to go back and re-evaluate in the light of potential ecosystem failure. This could be consistent with a delay in issuing a planning permit as council have proposed. The Panel could also consider what the implications there would be – a cost to continue importing coarse sand from nearby (with less noisy trucks perhaps) until some conditions have been met, continued operation for an acknowledged few years from the existing pit and perhaps for a minor extension into it’s new area at current depth, when appropriate conditions around the biolink are secured coarse sand extraction could commence and the losses in importing coarse sand could be recouped in sales of surplus from the CSEP. More ‘acceptable environmental outcomes’ would ensue, not just from the passage of time but hopefully due an ability to further assess and adapt the proposal.
Summary and my recommendation:
It will be a challenge to preserve the values within Bass Coast’s one remaining woodland corridor but with goodwill and inclusive decision making we just might do it. The Regional Sand Extraction Strategy was a good start decades ago but we need to update it and some policies and provisions to better reflect our ecology in crisis.
I believe this variation application should not be approved as the application is half baked in terms of assessments, the current situation has changed and the implications, particularly around mitigating the now greater ecological impacts are inadequate. The proponent would of course be able to apply again when they feel they are able to, or have addressed these shortcomings.
I would accept a delay as proposed by council to the CSEP until such time as the s173 native vegetation corridors (and alternative biolink either side of the proposed pit) have established to an agreed level where they are a functional biolink. And that approval is given only for above water table extraction over the site until further studies have been done on groundwater and Western Port Bay impacts, impacts on both creeks, and potential issues around risk to council and community of a proposed lake, are all assessed by an independent panel to show minimal risk or mitigation measures needed. I also suggest you make the following requests to the Minister:
Requests to Minister: - we can’t afford these skirmishes over every little failing, we need to ensure future activity is guaranteed to not follow similar failings, i.e. not appreciating (or being able to not appreciate) the need to act promptly on ecological requirements as there is often long implementation delays. - inform the Minister that a positive action would be an update of the Regional Sand Extraction Strategy to give developers a clear view of the biodiversity needs by; refining the existing and desired linkages between reserves, gazetting the ungazetted reserves and following the LCC advice to including the ‘Yugovic and Kutt’ land into the reserve (see 22.214.171.124 hearing book 007200). This should have been finished decades ago but it will be an easier task now that things like land ownership in miners hands, mapping natural resources, etc, is better known. DELWP would welcome this task and it would give comfort and certainty (unlike the SERA process that appears to be just a steam roller).
Further points to consider: - The proposed lake is both a further degradation of bio-linkage and also a potential risk to the shire in the long term. I.e. Potential for biofilms to prevent/restrict infiltration to groundwater and with inflows greater than extraction the lake level may rise, the water become nutrient rich and turn green with a different type of slime. What would the cost be and actions needed (detonate the lake base so infiltration resumes, dispersal of silt at least, pump untreated water out to river/bore/creek? - Easterly winds are buggers already on the Bass Coast, let’s make sure they don’t have even more impact for Grantville residents by properly assessing the dust (inc. crystalline silica etc) impacts. This was clearly glossed over. - The expert admission that there will be closer to a 20% reduction in flows in Deep Creek at full extraction compared to pre permit conditions (14% post stage one completion) must have a significant impact on Deep Ck ecology (and note that there will be a reduction in Colbert Creek as well, not studied). The expert dismissed this on the basis that pre-European flows would have been slightly lower but the ecology around the creek we want to protect is what’s developed to what’s there now. This aspect of the larger mine proposed needs proper assessment. – Recycling concrete into its constituents for reuse was discussed as a potential impact on sand demand, Mr Manning said unlikely. I will attach to my submission a copy of an article in Quarry magazine which is instructive here. (Ref 11, ‘Quarry’ magazine 8/12/2020).
What would give me confidence:
- A suite of plans, as in my without prejudice conditions, but if these were applied to a pit not intersecting the water table.
- If studies of likely flora and fauna had been done at appropriate times of year, night and day, and for extended periods across both the whole site and surrounding properties, for all species. We’ve found little because we’ve looked for little and that means we have to do better assessments.
- Community engagement where the community, other than just locals wanting to complain about dust, are involved and the objectives are around all working toward the best for miners and the land/environment. Currently (to my last knowledge roughly 4 months ago) the only community group is convened by the Chair, a quarry owner and the Secretary his partner, the council have withdrawn their rep and support and the ERC as it’s known haven’t met for nearly two years. (Environmental Review Committee - which covers the whole corridor).
- From where I sit the development of a Works Authority/Plan is a secret process, presenting a ‘fait accompli’ to planning officers and thus the local community. Why isn’t there community consultation in the Works Authority process. That process goes on for years sometimes, community consultation might even shortcut that if the government had a mind to a decent outcome.
Without prejudice conditions: - A revegetation plan for the S173 areas; 1, 2 & 3 that are not covered under the s69 agreement for offset areas must be developed as a priority and should have some flexibility to allow for potential improvements in the short term to aid connectivity and be flexible enough to adapt if for example mitigations in this area are needed to support functioning as an alternative biolink as was originally proposed. This should provide council with a set of assessment criteria as to whether satisfactory action is being taken (note, incorporation with next condition) - A suite of plans are required and should be developed in consultation with all parties. These will already be developed for 10 years of offset areas. As such DELWP should use advice from that to mesh with other area plans including:
Management plan for the immediate assessment of best mechanism to strengthen and enhance vegetation on the NW and SE of the CSEP with an aim to ensure screening in the NW and provide the best possible alternative wildlife paths either side of the pit progression boundary. Implementation to be asap. This should be the first part of a Biodiversity and Rehabilitation Management Plan as proposed by Mr Organ at his page 36 (hearing book 003423).
Species Protection Management Plan to supervise removal of habitat at each stage of the CSEP in order to collect and relocate fauna and soil & flora for use in rehabilitation works (to seed a best match to indigenous state).
Landscape and Vegetation Plan that works over the whole site allowing DELWP (offset areas), Council (s173 areas), the proponent (extraction areas rehabilitation) to all work together to achieve the best connectivity scale and quality with benefit to the adjoining bushland reserves and creek line habitats. This should include use of indigenous seed collection on or near the site from trees in Area 5 now to be used in revegetation as available. Ideally the proponent would retain an ecologist to ensure rigour both in setting this up and following through as other plans progress.
Rehabilitation and Site Closure Plan should be updated to include actions from Landscape and Vegetation Plan developments.
Weed management Plan or incorporation in others where appropriate. This is very important in that weeds are a major adverse impact on vegetation values.
A Construction Environment Management Plan for the operator as suggested by Mr Organ (his page 33) should include all his suggestions through the Work Plan and have some connection to effectiveness of revegetation works.
- CSEP impinging into Area2 in the Endorsed Conservation and Revegetation Plan should not happen as the s173 agreement says this area is for revegetated wildlife corridor and for no other use.
- Fox & feral cat baiting, trapping and / shooting, as a mitigation tool should be a requirement until revegetated corridors are adequately established. This would likely need to be on foot through the CSEP staging. Could & should be done in conjunction with current government/Landcare/ Biosphere fox control programs operating more widely in the woodland corridor.
- Expert opinion required but an alternative / addition to predator proofing/control could be to fence a long strip of the as yet unvegetated ‘Native Vegetation Corridor’ Area 2 on the East side of the CSEP, including the hay shed and connecting with wide areas of the existing vegetation North and South, with a fence that is impervious to foxes but would allow travel of smaller mammals, lizards, etc in and out of the fence where they chose. The area would roughly correspond with the Geotechnical Risk Zone (brown line on the mining extent map in the Works Authority). Not sure whether this might still have a negative impact however as I have no expertise in predator proof fencing.
- Now that the extent of quarrying in Area 5 is determined there needs to be a commitment that this application is the final extraction across all the DPQ’s land. This should close off the s173 agreement so that all areas are then designated as Native Vegetation Corridors only (currently the s173 is vague on the definition of when sand extraction has finished, is it this variation or will we have more, potentially a future purchaser of the property wanting to apply for more mining ... mockery otherwise… given ecosystem functionality is impacted against aspects of the planning and environment instruments there needs to be significantly more gain to balance the potential loss.