Bushland devastated by freeway works


01 Jun, 2010 12:46 PM

A CHORUS of disapproval has met the destruction of Frankston bushland and its flora and fauna to make way for the controversial $760 million Peninsula Link freeway.

Bulldozers have cleared bushland between Skye and Robinsons roads, parallel to McClelland Drive, which is known as sectionC by Abigroup, the construction partner of road building consortium Southern Way.

Environmentalists have protested loudly and have been joined by politicians and scientists calling for an investigation into whether the project's environmental management plan (EMP) is working effectively.

Last week, Frankston mayor Christine Richards wrote to Linking Melbourne Authority chief executive Ken Mathers querying if the EMP had even been approved by state government authorities.

"Councillors have received a significant number of alerts from concerned community members with regards to the clearing of trees along the Peninsula Link [route] south of Cranbourne Road when the EPA have not as yet approved the environmental management plan," she wrote.

"My advice from council staff is Abigroup does not yet have an approved EMP and sub-plans but is moving fairly quickly on aspects of construction."

Cr Richards stated the council was not shown revisions to the EMP made in April. "[We] were told in the May meeting [of LMA's Peninsula Link Inter-Agency Environmental Advisory Group] that there were not many changes made to the original draft.

"That in itself is alarming as many of the plans did not contain adequate levels of detail, and the environment committee members had made [a] significant number of comments on the plans."

Cr Richards called on Mr Mathers to suspend works "if the [EMP] has not been approved or is being breached... until the EMP is approved and complied with".

The mayor stated she had been told by Leanne Saddon, project manager of the North Peninsula Link Project, that "the overarching environmental management strategy is being refined and Southern Way is working with DSE to finalise some of the more complex issues surrounding the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve".

Cr Richards stated that the council recognised that some tree clearing may be necessary to build the freeway.

"However, the manner in which this is being done appears to be having significant impact on the opportunity for relocation of native fauna. As a consequence, a number of Frankston residents are understandably outraged by the lack of care that you appear to be taking to [sic] the protection of our environment."

On Friday, City of Frankston chief executive George Modrich stated: "The mayor has sent a letter to Linking Melbourne Authority and we expect a response next week.

"We have also held discussions at officer level with LMA to seek clarification of their environmental management of the project. We will hold further discussions next week, and will discuss with LMA ways our local community can be kept better informed of the environmental management of the project."

On Monday, DSE issued a one paragraph statement to The Independent: "The EMP for the sector that is currently being cleared has been declared compliant by the independent reviewer. DSE is continuing to work with LMA, Southern Way and Abigroup to ensure appropriate biodiversity outcomes."

The independent reviewer is AECOM Australia Pty Ltd, the local branch of an American multinational infrastructure company with offices in more than 100 countries. Its website states the company is working on "some of our region's most iconic projects such as the multi award-winning Inner Northern Busway Alliance (Queensland, Australia) and Telfer Deeps Gold Mine (Western Australia, Australia)".

The clearing has been strongly criticised by, among many others, wildlife rescuer Michelle Thomas and Seaford environmentalist Alison Kuiter. The pair were called to Pobblebonk Reserve, also known as Willow Road Reserve, near McClelland Drive opposite Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve two weekends ago after bulldozers started.

Ms Kuiter said bulldozers had wiped out the only known population of green dainty wasp orchids in the region.

"This may be the first Australian example of an extinction event that can be so precisely pinpointed to a date, a cause and to individuals responsible.

"We [environmentalists] all assumed the EMP would allow rescuing of plants, installation of habitat boxes for displaced animals and an adequate number of on-ground animal rescuers.

"Pobblebonk Reserve is almost gone. We cannot stop this destruction, but we can send a clear message to all our politicians that they can't bleat about loss of biodiversity and what they are doing to preserve it when they sign off on projects like this."

David Morris, an Opposition spokesman on the environment, in parliament last Wednesday demanded the government step in and "stop the senseless destruction of wildlife and rare flora in the Peninsula Link corridor".

Last Thursday, Colin Long, the Australian Greens candidate for the upper house seat of South East Metropolitan, said: "The Brumby government is making a mockery of the International Year of Biodiversity by destroying vital reserves that provide habitats for rare and endangered flora and fauna species.

"Major damage was done to Willow Road Reserve in Frankston, providing a taste of the destruction soon to be wrought on the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve and Victorian Heritage Register-listed Westerfield [in Frankston South]. The craven failure of Heritage Victoria to protect the Westerfield property in its entirety was an indication of how entirely subservient to road-building mania state government agencies have become." He said government transport policy was "like a clapped out 1970s petrol guzzler stuck in reverse: wrong decade, wrong direction".

Philip Jensen, secretary of Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association, said the clearing was "appalling ecological destruction" and called on residents to protest to federal environment minister Peter Garrett.

On Monday, LMA communications manager Erin Coldham stated: "LMA is overseeing the Peninsula Link construction and is confident all environmental obligations are being met."