Greens candidate for Ballina, Tamara Smith has criticised the Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt for approving the Pacific Highway upgrade between Ballina and Woologoolga.
The move comes despite community concern about the impacts to a nationally significant koala colony at Blackwall Range, which could be bisected by the upgrade.
“I fear that the Minister is merely embarking on a box-ticking exercise, rather than do what’s necessary and calling for an alternate route to be submitted by the NSW Roads and Maritime Services. A plan to merely minimise koala road-kill will not protect this threatened colony.
“Population modeling by leading koala experts has shown that this section of the highway upgrade will lead to a terminal decline in the local koala population. No amount of underpasses, habitat offsetting or tree bridges will compensate for severing this core koala habitat.
“I welcome that Minister Hunt seems to have gone some way to recognising the importance of this koala colony by imposing approval conditions. However, the fact remains that there are a number of alternative routes for the Pacific Highway upgrade that will not impact this known biodiversity hotspot.
“What the Minister needs to do is reject the section of the Highway upgrade north of the Richmond River to the west of Wardell and require the NSW RMS to submit plans for an alternative route that ensures the survival of Ballina’s koalas” said Tamara Smith.
Ballina Cr Jeff Johnson and Save Ballina’s Koalas campaign coordinator said:
“While it is disappointing that the Minster didn’t call for an alternative route to be submitted, he has, never the less, asked for additional studies to be completed before a final approval is given. It’s clear that this Koala population is important and needs to be protected.
“Given the evidence suggests that the ameliorative measures proposed by the RMS will not offset the known impacts to the Koalas, an alternative route should be called for.
“At no stage has a route been investigated that utilized the existing highway infrastructure, and thus avoiding the areas that have a high environmental and cultural value. This route now needs to be considered said Cr Jeff Johnson.