This is a slightly edited version of a submission sent to the Federal Department of Environment on August 3,2015
Attention: Federal Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt.
Submission Roads and Maritime Services land/east of King Georges Road and St Peters
Westconnex New M5 Reference: 2015/7520
The perspective I bring to this submission is one of an investigative journalist and social researcher who previously taught environmental journalism at UTS. I am also part of an Inner Western Sydney community that will be negatively impacted by the Westconnex.
I have read the published referral documents, some other literature and visited the Arncliffe site that has been identified as the mid-point for the Westconnex M5 Duplicate.
In its referral report, the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (NSW RMS) acting on behalf of the Westconnex Delivery Authority (WDA) has notified the Federal Department of Environment that it intends to take actions that pose a significant and potentially fatal risk to a protected colony of Green and Golden Bell Frogs (GGBF) in Arncliffe and remove nearly 80% of a critically endangered stand of Cooks River Castlereagh Iron Bark bushland near Beverly Hills. Other endangered species may also be affected.
The RMS acknowledges that the impact on two protected species would be significant. As an action that would be likely to have a ‘significant impact on: a matter of national environmental significance’, it is a ‘controlled action’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).
RMS keeps public in dark about the threat to endangered species
To my knowledge, RMS's intention to use the Kogarah Golf Course (KGC) as a mid-point for its tunnel excavation became public on July 15, 2015. Preparation of the referral report by consultants Eco Logical Pty Ltd appears to have begun as far back as October 2014 ( as can be seen on pages 1 and 2 of the report) and was continuing in January 2015 (see following pages). This suggests that the project route has been known for at least nine months. Despite this, the RMS failed to inform the public either before or on July 15 that it intended to take actions that would pose a significant threat to an endangered colony of GGBF. A pamphlet distributed to residents in Arncliffe in mid July only vaguely describes the construction site and fails to make any mention of potential impact on endangered species. This failure to inform the community about its proposed actions potentially denied citizens and groups with special knowledge or interest in the issues, the opportunity to provide considered comments to the Federal Department of Environment on this referral.
After the risk to endangered species because public last week, many members of the public expressed their concern. I am aware that some specialist local groups did not have the time to put in submissions within the very short timeframe available.
RMS’s has known for at least nine months that its preferred route for the Westconnex M5 duplicate will do significant damage to endangered species but has hidden this from the public. This secrecy contrasts with misleading statements about WDA’s community consultation processes included in the referral report.
The report provides no data or concrete evidence to support assertions about the need for the project or the reason why alternatives were not preferred.
The report states that frog monitoring has continued in 2015 but no details or information is supplied about the results.
The report lacks a clear description of the current state of the Arncliffe GGBF frog colony .
The report states that a ‘review of all available research was carried out’. (p 17). In fact, this review omits discussion of important research and reports, which are highly relevant to this evaluation.
The report fails to communicate to the public or decision makers the nature of the construction site that will occupy a significant part of the GGBF habitat on Kogarah Golf Course. This will be a 3-year major tunneling site generating intense noise and vibration and a massive amount of waste, which will be transported off the site by trucks moving along adjacent roads.
A Westconnex brochure delivered to residents mentions a potential ‘ventilation stack.’ This is not discussed in the report at all.
The report understates the significance of a stand of critically endangered Cooks River Castlereagh Iron Bark Forest to justify its destruction.
The report unreasonably segments this project from other linked projects, including the planned F6 motorway and another major property development on the Arncliffe site, which is reportedly currently being promoted by the NSW Planning Department. The overall impact of the actions should be considered in the light of these other projects.
The proposal should not be considered as isolated action but as part of larger projects including other parts of the Westconnex; descriptions of the Westconnex project in the referral document are not up to date.
The actions undermine or render futile previous conditions of approval for the original M5.
References to potential offsets and mitigation in the absence of any design or specific detail are meaningless.
The report contains other minor errors, which suggests that it has been rushed.
The proposed actions should be rejected as unacceptable under [Section 74c]( of the Act.
At this stage, the referral documentation is unfit for evaluation. Consequently, if not rejected outright the actions should be deferred or rejected under sections 72, 74a and 74b or more information should be sort as suggested in Section 76.
If the Minister does not reject the referral, it should be evaluated under Federal environmental law using a public inquiry. This inquiry should include in its terms of reference an investigation into the circumstances in which a NSW public authority such the RMS forwarded such an flawed document to the Federal Department of Environment for a project which is costing $15.4 billion including billions of Federal funds. It should also investigate the current management of the endangered species by the RMS and other responsible owners. Alternatively, these matters could be included into a broader Federal/State public inquiry into the Westconnex project.
Important role for Federal Department of Environment
This application highlights the continuing need for an independent Federal assessment of significant environmental matters, particularly when the proponent is a State government. In recent days, the media (not the NSW government) has informed the public that the NSW Planning Department (the relevant state assessment body) is promoting further major development on the Kogarah Gold Course which would follow the proposed actions. This is not mentioned in the referral report. (St George Leader, July 28, 2015 http://www.theleader.com.au/story/3238882/kogarah-golf-club-wants-trade-off-for-westconnex-disruption/). If this media report is correct, it further highlights how inappropriate it would be for the NSW Planning Department to assess this referral.
These two threatened colonies were specifically conserved by M5 offsets or mitigation measures. Now the RMS proposes to remove or drastically damage these offsets, thus overriding previous conditions for development. In this situation, vague promises of offsets should not be accepted at face value. Even if mitigation or offset measures were to be identified, they should be fully tested against research into the likelihood of their long-term viability. (A major review of the prospects of translocation of frogs is missing from the literature review).
1. Rationale and justification for the likely significant destruction of endangered species
If a developer decides to take an action that will threaten or remove an endangered species, the public should be entitled to expect that a serious weighing of evidence will be undertaken. This is particularly so in the case of a public authority such as the RMS. Even the most superficial evaluation of this report quickly shows that no evidence is provided that can provide the basis for a serious evaluation.
Why has the RMS rushed to file this report before a design has been completed and more evidence is available against which to test assertions? There is evidence that this report was begun months ago but then was rushed in completion. Why are there three different dates on the report – October 2014, January 2015 and July 2015?
The sectional planning project approach to the 33 or more kilometre Westconnex motorway prevents serious consideration of the impacts of the larger Westconnex project. This means that while broad justifications for the whole project are used to justify local threats, there has been no overall analysis and evaluation of the environmental threats from the whole project.
No business case has yet been published that supports the assertions in this referral. The NSW Auditor General severely criticised an earlier version of a purported business case. Subsequently, the NSW government has promised to release sections of its business case but has not done so. It is therefore not surprising that bald assertions are made about core objectives of the overall Westconnex project for the purpose of justifying a significant risk to the viability of species. These assertions are unsupported by empirical data of any kind. Indeed a number of those statements are contested by independent experts and even by the WDA's own reports.
One example will be used from the core objectives to show that easily available evidence would demonstrate that the assertions are contested and should not be taken at false value.
One objective is to "relieve road congestion so as to improve the speed, reliability and safety of travel in the M4 and M5 corridor, including parallel arterial roads." A report by SGS Economics & Planning commissioned by the City of Sydney found that the motorway is unlikely to reduce traffic on local roads, exposes the public to huge financial risk, and will not benefit a large proportion of Sydney commuters, including those in Western Sydney. (SGS 2015; Saulwick 2015.), Independent experts argue that motorways induce rather than remove traffic. (Zeibots, 2007, Zeibots, 2009).
One does not even have to look as far as independent experts to find evidence that the statement that road congestion will be relieved on arterial roads is not correct. The EIS for the M4 widening from Parramatta to Homebush found that traffic is expected to increase on Parramatta Road by 35% after tolls are imposed. It will also increase on Victoria Road and the M2 motorway. The EIS for Westconnex preliminary works at King Georges Road interchange shows that the intersection would be even more congested when the preliminary project is completed.
My argument is not that independent assessment should be accepted at this stage by those evaluating this RMS referral report. However I do argue that the overall quality of the report is so poor and the information provided so superficial that it is not possible to evaluate evidence for the 'controlled action'. For this and other reasons, the referral should be rejected. Unless specific evidence is 'on the table', risks cannot be evaluated. It is alarming that the RMS thinks that bald assertions of purpose will suffice when the survival of endangered communities is at stake.
2. Evaluation of alternatives
The evaluation of alternatives is vague, lacks details and is superficial. Again there is no data to support any claims (p.12).
On page 13, the report concludes that the preferred route involves “reduced impact on local residents, with the longer tunnel option generally located adjacent to commercial and industrial properties in Kingsgrove, reducing the impact of the proposed action on local residents. “ In fact there are many residents living near the proposed exit and entry point, which will also be the location of a ventilation stack. Many people also work during heavy traffic hours nearby. This is just one example of the proponent's tendency to constantly understate impacts.
The Arncliffe site also sits directly opposite a dense residential area where many additional apartments are currently being built. Thousands of people will be affected over three years and beyond by the impact of a massive noisy construction and tunneling site. A pamphlet delivered to residences last week states that the golf course may also be the site of a ‘potential’ ventilation stack. Astonishingly, there is no discussion of the implications of this in the report. If not on this site, where will the ventilation stack be?
On page 13, the report states, “A longer tunnel option would be able to achieve a lesser grade, providing better operational air quality outcomes and less impact to visual amenity given the need for a smaller cut and cover structure. “ Once again, there is no evidence of any kind to support this statement. This is partly because no design has yet been completed. This raises an issue about why this application has been put in at all at this time. Why didn’t the RMS wait until evidence was available on air quality and tunnel design? There is no mention of how the tunnel design will affect water flows, wetlands, soil quality and other natural features, which could affect the endangered species.
The lack of an available design means that statements about the intention to ‘minimise impact’ can be only taken as mere formal expression of purpose. For example on "Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark Forest (CRCIF), located north of the M5 East Motorway. Opportunities to minimise the impact to the endangered ecological community would be considered during design development." It is impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of any chosen design in minimising impact because no design is available.
3. Poor process and misleading statements about community consultation
On page 15, the report states:
"Public and stakeholder consultation has to date been focused at raising community awareness of the WestConnex program of works, and has included the provision of key information via a number of channels including the website, a project information hotline, emails to registered stakeholders, public kiosks, drop-in information sessions, public forums, letterbox drops, media releases and community update brochures. Additional consultation activities have been undertaken or have been planned specifically for the New M5. This includes targeted consultation with key stakeholders (including representatives of the Local Aboriginal Land Council), community drop-in sessions, community updates, information hotlines and door–knocking of local residents by the project team. Consultation will continue during the preparation and the exhibition of the environmental impact statement. Additional consultation is planned during construction and operation of the proposed action."
The paragraph above is written to convey the impression of close consultation. It is extremely misleading. In the part of the project area in which GGBF exist, there has been no consultation at all. No information had been provided to the community until after this report was lodged on July 17. An Arncliffe resident who lived through the controversial development of the flawed original M5, has told the author that her family had explicitly been told recently by Westconnex that the route for this project would not impact on her area. Now she believes that she will be living within 100 metres of the construction site.
Last week, two people from Westconnex accompanied by a security guard knocked on the doors of several streets of houses in Arncliffe. No mention at all was made about endangered species and only vague information of any kind was provided. (See Attached WDA information sheet). There is a reference on the information sheet to a potential ventilation stack. This is not dealt with in the referral document.
In fact, this report shows that the RMS have known about its preferred route since October 2014. The first two pages of the report are dated October 2014. The first news given to the public of the major interchange at St Peters (involving the acquisition of more than 40 homes, a fact not mentioned in this report) was in November 2014. The location of a ventilation stack at Kingsgrove was first mentioned in mid 2015. Last week, the WDA organised an event in a registered club at Kingsgrove where a preliminary stage of a design was exhibited for the first time.
This report was signed off on July 7, 2015. The NSW government announced the midpoint construction site on the KGC on July15 without any mention of the threat to species. The RMS lodged this referral which was published on the Department website on July 17. No public announcement about the referral was made or information supplied to thousands of Sydney residents who have provided their emails to be alerted about Westconnex updates. Fortunately a member of the public observed the notice of the referral on the Department of Environment’s website. If it had not been for her observation, the ten-day consultation period could have quietly passed without any interested citizen or group knowing of the need for public input.
In fact rather than being consulted, the community has been deliberately kept in the dark. This failure to accurately report WDA's and RMS's dealings with the public is disturbing.
4. Failure to look at project as part of larger project and in regional context
The report states that the M5 duplicate is part of a much bigger project involving more than 33 kilometres of exposed motorway and tunnel. It acknowledges that the M5 duplicate tunnel alone will involve the removal of more than 80 hectares of vegetation, bushland and sporting fields. The impact of a much greater amount of removal of native species and vegetation and the impact on this of endangered species for the whole proposed Westconnex project has not been assessed. There has been no attempt to evaluate the overall threat to endangered species from the whole project and how the threat in one area could impact on other parts of Sydney's regional ecology.
In describing the whole Westconnex, the authors appear to have used out of date information. For example, there is no reference to the announced intention to take the Westconnex to Rozelle where it link to a harbor crossing.
Even more seriously, the RMS also acknowledge in passing that Area 3 which contains the habitat of the frogs will intersect with yet another motorway, the F6 from the South. No more information is made available about the additional motorway despite the fact that it could be expected to worsen severe threats to the Golden and Green Bell Frog (GGBF) community.
This failure to discuss the action in the contact of further actions in relation to the F6 and the Cooks River Cove development leaves it open to the Minister to refer the project back to be considered as part of a larger project under Section 74a.
5. Undermining and breaking conditions set for other projects.
The M5 is now acknowledged even by the NSW government to be a misguided project with a poor design. It has contributed little to solving problems and costs of traffic congestion. Communities in South West Sydney actively opposed the planned M5 including its most environmentally destructive elements. As a result steps were taken to preserve some endangered bushland remnants and the Wolli Creek valley.
Some of the Marsh Street wetlands, including habitat of the GGBF species, were damaged on the Lower Cooks River. Breeding ponds were created in an effort to save the frog colony. The location of the breeding ponds was chosen because it is close to the KGC and remaining Marsh Street wetlands.
Since 2014, the RMS has known that the proposed Westconnex route contained a critically endangered remnant of Cook River Castlereagh Ironmark forest of 1.8 hectares near the Canterbury Golf Course. The report acknowledges that this "patch of bushland was intentionally avoided by the original M5 project and is now managed for conservation by Roads and Maritime in accordance with the M5 approval conditions. " The effect of this proposal is to break one of the approval conditions for the original M5. The saved piece of critically endangered bushland is to be sacrificed to yet another motorway project for which there is no available business case, detailed justification or EIS.
The report notes that current threats to this bushland patch of CRCIF are 'urban edge effects'. Later the ‘urban edge effects” area are described as being threats from the adjacent M5 motorway (lighting impacts, noise, human disturbance). This should alert those tasked with the duty of protecting the environment to the dangers of further threatening endangered species through the construction of motorways that many experts argue are not a solution to traffic congestion. It also raises questions about the quality of management of the conservation area. This should be investigated rather than degradation being used as a reason to justify the removal of 77% of this critically endangered bushland.
6. Green and Golden Bell Frogs
The Arncliffe Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea) (GGBF) population has been described as being one of only two surviving secure colonies (outside Taronga Zoo) in Sydney. The other is at Homebush.
The disturbance site (Area 3) will destroy a considerable part of the surviving habitat of the GGBF.
6.1 Current state of the frog colony
The first M5 motorway destroyed some GGBF habitat in the Marsh and Eve Street wetlands. For this reason and as a specific requirement of the project, the RTA (now RMS) was required to create two breeding ponds as compensation for the lost and altered frog habitat in the Marsh and Eve Street wetland areas. According to monitoring reports attached to the referral, sightings of frogs have decreased on what remains of these wetlands since the motorway was built.
The habitat for the frogs always included the KGC. Since 2000, there have been many sightings of frogs there and at least one recorded breeding event. Much of this habitat including ponds where frogs have been sighted in recent years will be destroyed if this project was to be approved.
The authors of the report fail to provide up to date information about the current state the frog colony. Since 2000, Dr. Arthur White has monitored the site and the Frog and Tadpole Group has conducted working bees in most years (Referral Document Attachments.) GGBF numbers go up and down according to weather patterns. For this reason, there have been good and bad years for the frog colony.
The report states that monitoring has been done bi annually but there is no information about any monitoring for any month past April 2014 when frog numbers were low. Dr. White himself records that this may have been due to dry weather.
It is important for breeding ponds to be clear and habitat to be kept in an appropriate condition. According to the monitoring reports, there was a working bee, which removed saplings in early 2014. Have there been any since then? To the untrained eye, the ponds look overgrown. Is the RMS ensuring that they are actively maintained in the best possible order?
The report refers to a personal communication from Dr White in which he states that the frog colony may fail. What are the reasons for this? Is it due to the predator Plague Minnow and disease being allowed to establish itself in GBF ponds? Who has been alerted about the risks to the health of the frog colony? What practical steps have been taken to reduce the threat? None of this information is supplied in the report.
The lack of clear up to date information about the current state of the GGBF and the uncertainty hanging over the colony should be sufficient reason to reject the referral. It seems action is needed to protect the colony, rather than destroy it.
6.2 The disturbance
The referral report fails to fully inform the Department of Environment about the extent of the significant impact of the referred action on the GGBF. According to the document, design or construction plans are not yet available. On July 30, a WDA spokesperson was quoted in the St George Leader as stating that the GGBF "population has been a key consideration in the design and configuration of the new M5 midway tunneling point construction site” and that "the configuration of the midway tunneling point construction site will ensure the breeding ponds are undisturbed...We are carrying out specialist studies as part of the environmental assessment.”
If a design does exist why has it not been described? If the GGBF have been a “key consideration”, why has a large part of the frog’s habitat almost adjacent to the breeding ponds been chosen for the site? If specialist studies have been carried out, why weren't these included and discussed in the referral document?
Most particularly, the referral fails to describe the nature of the construction site at the mid-point tunneling site. There is no mention at all of the impact of noise and vibration on the frogs or of the enormous amount of waste that will be excavated and transported from the site over a three-year period. The WDA has acknowledged that at a similar mid-point site in Concord, lights will be used during the night. Each day, hundreds of trucks removing waste will travel onto adjacent streets. By failing to discuss any of these potential factors, the referral document produces a narrative that seriously understates the intense impact of the project across the whole Golf Course area and surrounding streets.
The word ‘temporary’ is also used to describe the disturbance. Three years of such drastic intense disturbance is not temporary in the breeding cycles of frogs.
The referral document states that the breeding ponds would be 50 metres from the edge of the construction site and that pathways would be created for the frogs. Because the authors fails to describe the nature of the construction site, it is not possible for a decision maker to evaluate the chances of the breeding ponds surviving or pathways being created through a massive construction site but to a lay person, it would seem to be slight.
Proposed mitigation actions not explained.
In relation to possible mitigation, it is disturbing that an important research article published by Arthur White and Raymond Pyke in 2008 was neither identified in the literature review nor discussed in the document. This is especially odd because Dr White would appear to be the only frog expert relied up by the RMS consultant EcoLogical Pty Ltd.
This article reviewed experiments in translocating GGBF in NSW. The article concluded that although translocation has been seen as useful strategy for GGBF, Arncliffe was the only Sydney colony that had survived translocation. As the authors noted, this was the first significant review of the success of the experiments and the factors that influenced success of failure. They concluded that of four sites, Arncliffe was the only one that had “achieved habitat requirements and the population goal.” (White and Pyke, 2008, p.256).
The authors advised “translocation should never be considered lightly as a means to achieve species translocation.” They refer to NSW guidelines, which require that recreated habitat needs to be demonstrated to be successful in breeding over the original and a subsequent generation. They note that “as female bell frogs take 18 months to sexually mature, this means that a time delay of between three and four years must elapse before it is possible to meet the breeding requirement.”
The last paragraph of the article states, “These results also suggest, among other things, that a relatively circumspect view should be taken of translocations that a proposed to allow development to proceed while protecting and conserving frog populations.” (P.259).
6.4 Missing Literature
The White and Pyke, 2008 article review of translocation experiments was considered to be significant enough to be included in the Federal Department of Environment Guidelines ‘Approved Conservation Advice for Litoria aurea (green and golden bell frogIssued in April 2014.
Astonishingly, there is also no reference or discussion in the referral document to these guidelines. The proposed actions in this referral would breach these guidelines. When the recommendations are read in relation to the information in the referral report, one wonders what NSW government has been doing to ensure that those occupying its land are following basic conservation practices? Before any action is taken there should be further inquiry into the nature of the management of the rare surviving Sydney frog colony in recent times.
Without more independent investigation, vague references to mitigation and offsets are not helpful. If translocation is being considered, have the time requirements recommended by White and Pyke been taken into account?
Another literature review gap is the then NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change 2008 Management Plan ‘The Green and Golden Bell Frog Key Population of the Lower Cooks River’
This key document includes a referral to the ‘forthcoming’ White and Pyke (2008) article. The Management Plan needs to be read in full but significantly this passage is found on page 20.
“The long term management of the M5 East ‘RTA’ GGBF breeding ponds has become problematic. The RTA has indicated that it would prefer to transfer ownership and management of the ponds to another party such as Rockdale City Council (RCC). However the M5 East consent conditions do not stipulate a time limit for duration of management and ownership responsibilities of these critically important ponds and associated habitat area by the RTA. A provision exists for the transfer of this responsibility to an alternate body provided that this change is justified, an operating budget is provided, and all parties (including the DECC) agree to this handover. At this point it is understood that RCC would prefer the current situation prevails. It remains vital for this key population’s continued viability that the original consent conditions imposed by the then NPWS, (or updated conditions to that effect), are preserved in any responsibility transfer. That is, that the protection of the habitat remains secure, the habitat remains fenced and actively managed under direction of a GGBF expert, and regular monitoring and reporting continues. It is uncertain whether active management by the RTA is currently occurring to schedule as was originally required and specified. Management Plan Green and Golden Bell Frog Lower Cooks River Key Populations Department of Environment and Climate Change Page 21
In addition, clarification of the status of the long term proposed F6 Freeway is crucial. This freeway development, if it proceeds, has the potential to compromise all previous and planned conservation efforts including the mitigation and offsetting measures required as part of the Cooks Cove and Kogarah Golf Course relocation developments. The proposed F6 Freeway would impact on the golf course and also on other sites throughout the Rockdale ‘corridor’”.
The NSW government acknowledged in 2008 that the F6 has the potential to wipe out the frog population. The Westconnex M5 represents just as grave threat, especially when one considers that the F6 is still planned to come to the site. If we want to protect the Arncliffe GGBF frog, these actions must be prohibited.
6.5 Grant Webster’s Reports
The report relies very heavily on monitoring by Dr White.
I have read a report by scientist Grant Webster who carried out monitoring on the site for Cumberland Ecology. Why was this research not identified and discussed in the referral document? ( I understand that this report is referred to in a submission by Webster).
Cumberland Ecology carried out surveys on the Kogarah Golf Course between 2006 and 2009. Bell frogs were detected on every occasion at the golf course. The results varied with frogs being detected in four ponds in 2009 and breeding was only evident in one pond.
Grant Webster who was involved in those surveys concludes that there was potential breeding outside the RMS Breeding Ponds. Out of seven locations where frogs were found, "six of these locations are from ponds on the golf course and five of them are within the zone they have outlined for construction." He records that an amplectant pair was detected in the central ponds, indicating that breeding occurs there. (See the diagrams in Grant Webster submission to this referral indicating how closely the distribution of frogs overlaps with the proposed M5 construction site.)
Webster sounds a note of severe warning: "It is alarming that "all the main ponds occupied by bell frogs have been zoned for construction, this construction zone is exactly where the frogs occur on the golf course, and they were not detected more widely despite the entire area being surveyed. In my opinion if this development were to go ahead as planned it would likely spell the end for the Kogarah population of Green and Golden Bell Frogs."
Since the only purpose of the intended action leading to this referral is to occupy the construction site, it would seem that the development should not go ahead as it would likely spell the end of the existence of the Kogarah GGBF. The frogs would be driven from their habitat and if any should survive in the vicinity, they would be exposed to three years of intense noise and vibration followed by further disruption, construction and vibration. While residents have been told that a potential ventilation stack is planned on the site but this is not discussed in the referral document at all.
6.6 Unclear Presentation of Information
I agree with and adopt criticism of the referral document by the Wolli Creek Preservation Society (WCPS). See http://www.wollicreek.org.au/wp-content/wolliupload/M5-EPBC-Referral-WCPS-full-version.pdf p.7). The descriptions of habitats and maps within the KGC together with the map make it difficult to judge movements of the GGBF population across the golf course. Breeding habitats and are marked in figure 4, also other habitats within the disturbance area, but it is not clear from the descriptions where else the GGBF has established habitat. There are references to “Crescent Lake” and certain fairways as frog habitat, but neither the lake nor the fairways are marked on the map (figure 4). This lack of clear information adds to the serious gaps in information identified above. In order to arrive at a judgement of the extent of the significant impact on the GGBF population it is imperative that all habitat forms and locations are provided.
It is quite clear that the loss and changes to the GGBF breeding and foraging habitats are likely to significantly impact on the population found on Kogarah Golf Course, to the extent that it could cause its local extinction. Like many others, I request that the proposed action be dismissed as unacceptable under section 74B EPBC Act.
7. Cooks River/ Castlereagh Ironbark Forest of the Sydney Basin Bioregion
The proposed new M5 will have a significant impact on ‘matters of national environmental significance’ protected by the EPBC Act because it would remove a remnant of Cooks River/ Castlereagh Ironbark Forest of the Sydney Basin Bioregion, which was listed by the Department of Environment as recently as March 2015 as being critically endangered. http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/129-conservation-advice.pdf
The WDA proposes to clear 80% of this remnant that is adjacent to Canterbury Golf Course and known as ‘Beverly Grove’. This is a significant threat contributing to further fragmentation of a already critically endangered species. As in the case of the GBFF, the conservation of this remnant of endangered forest was itself a condition of the approval of the original M5. (Approval Condition 86). Losing more nearly 80% of this bushland remnant, which has previously been judged to be of very high conservation value, would result in the decline of this functionally important species. The RMS should not be allowed to now destroy it.
The tenor of the discussion in the referral report regarding this bushland remnant is disturbing because it again appears designed to minimise the consequences of proposed actions for the survival of the species. The referral document does however acknowledge that the "recovery potential…would be limited and the long term evolutionary development of this particular patch will be impacted.” (p 20 Referral document).
The ecological value of the site was assessed in 1997,and the consultants report describes the bushland as having high botanical integrity, only weed-affected at edges, with a relatively weed-free core area. “The conservation value of this site is very high and all care needs to be taken during motorway construction to avoid physical damage.” (p. 11 Cumberland Flora and Fauna Interpretive Services (1997).
This bushland was set aside during the initial construction of the M5 because of its high conservation value 20 years ago, if anything it is more valuable today because it has been protected and managed for conservation by RMS.
I refer to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (s266B) Approved Conservation Advice (including listing advice) for Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark Forest of the Sydney Basin Bioregion (DoE 2013) in which these two passages appear:
“National listing focuses legal protection on remaining patches of the ecological community that are most functional, relatively natural (as described by the ‘Description’) and in relatively good condition.” (Page 6, DoE).
“Given reduced extent of the already limited distribution of the Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark Forest, areas that meet the minimum (moderate class) condition thresholds are considered critical to the survival of the ecological community.” (Page 10 DoE)
The Approved Conservation Advice for this CEEC states any bushland areas meeting the moderate class condition thresholds are considered critical for the survival of this community.
This bushland remnant is clearly of moderate-high condition given the criteria and diagnostics provided in the Approved Conservation Advice for this CEEC (see Table 1). Based upon the previous environmental assessment the remnant is largely weed-free, and it is greater than 0.5 ha in area, and it is East of Riverstone. If the understory is >70% native species then it is a remnant of high condition and therefore should be considered critical habitat for this community.
In addition to this, the combined remnant bushland area of 1.8 ha makes this one of the larger remaining stands of Cooks River/Castlreagh Ironbark Forest. Almost all patches (83%) have an area of less than 10 ha (Tozer et al 2010). This is probably the only remaining patch in the Wolli Creek Valley. It therefore has high conservation value because of its geographical location in the eastern part of the range for this CEEC. The good condition, size, geographical location of this bushland remnant qualify it for protection as critical habitat for this Critically Endangered Ecological Community under the EPBC Act 1999.
The referral report notes that current threats to this bushland patch of CRCIF are 'urban edge effects'. Later, the ‘urban edge effects” area are described as being threats from the adjacent M5 motorway (lighting impacts, noise, human disturbance). This should alert those tasked with the duty of protecting the environment to the dangers of further threatening endangered species through the construction of motorways that many experts argue are not a solution to traffic congestion. It also raises questions about the quality of management of the conservation area. This should be investigated rather than degradation being used as a reason to justify the removal of 77% of this critically endangered bushland.
It is impossible to mitigate or offset the loss of this bushland remnant as there are no similar remnants available for conservation in the locality. It is the only remnant of this size in high condition. This bushland must be retained to contribute to the continued survival and conservation management of this ecological community. The Federal Minister for the Environment should declare this proposal a controlled action and protect of this valuable local example a critically endangered species.
8. Migratory Birds
The report states that the corridor does fall within proximity to Ramsar Protected wetlands. It then has ‘NA”. This is not explained. The author is aware that Westconnex has been drilling on the Landing Lights open area for migratory birds. A resident told the author that the WDA would supply no information about whether there would be further activity on that site. More investigation needs to occur once more is known about the route and design for the project.
9. Grey-headed Flying Foxes
The camp of the Grey-headed Flying Foxes (GHFF) at Turrella is indicated as a camp of National Importance in the Draft EPBC Act Policy Statement (DotE Dec. 2014).
The information provided in the referral document in relation to the GHFF lacks clarity, is imprecise, presents deficient data, makes unsubstantiated assertions and fails to present or cite appropriate evidence. The data quoted is limited and not very informative as it represents a small number of monitoring sessions over a limited period of time. That GHFF camps fluctuate in number is a well-known phenomenon: they are a highly mobile species on both a temporal and spatial basis because they are dependent on occurrences of flowering and fruiting of native trees. Removal of any of the GHFF food trees in Areas 1 and 3 for the “twin main alignment tunnels, surface road connections and ancillary surface facilities” (which includes works and service compounds) will result in a reduction in available foraging habitat and so will impact on the species. There is a cumulative impact aspect to the reduction in foraging habitat. The construction works associated with the recently commenced King Georges Rd interchange upgrade have already removed some GHFF food trees. The Wolli Creek Preservation Society Inc. - Submission regarding Referral Reference Number: 2015/7520 Page 10 of 17 proposed future monitoring of the Turrella population alone will not ensure that there are no significant impacts. The Turrella camp is also important because of dispersal activities of GHFF populations from other Sydney camps, such as the recent Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney action. While currently there is no national recovery plan for this species, and therefore no important populations of this species have been identified, the Turrella colony should nonetheless be considered a significant population of a species listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act.
On this matter I adopt the Wolli Creek Preservation Society submission to this referral particularly pages 9 -14.
I request that the proposed action be rejected as unacceptable under section 74B EPBC Act
Department of Environment and Climate Change (2008) Management Plan: The Green and Golden Bell Frog Key Population of the Lower Cooks River. (http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/threatenedspecies/2007391LowerCooksRiverGGBFMP.pdf Accessed July 31, 2015)
White, A.W. & Pyke,G.H., (2008). Frogs on the hop: translocations of the Green and Golden Bell Frogs Litoria aurea in Greater Sydney. Zoologist 34(3) p 249-260
Saulwick, J. (2015) Westconnex: The wrong project for Sydney report says’ Feb 23. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/nsw-state-election-2015/westconnex-the-wrong-project-for-sydney-report-says--invest-in-public-transport-instead-20150223-13m8f0.html
SGS Economics & Planning (2015) Summary report http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdffile/0011/232697/150427COUNCILITEM35ATTACHMENTA.PDF
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