BALD Hills Wind Farm contractors have agreed to halt their vegetation removal works along the Inverloch-Venus Bay Road – for the moment.
The vegetation was being removed to make way for the installation of a power line from the wind farm, but there is widespread concern that far too much is being removed.
“It takes 100 years to replace a 100-year-old tree and some of the mature trees along this roadside would have been of that vintage,” said Fish Creek botanist Dr Mary Ellis, who took issue with the vegetation removal in a letter in the local press. “The permit issued by Council allowed for removal of vegetation at the site of each power pole, not wholesale clearing.”
Lorraine Norden’s letter pulled no punches. The Venus Bay resident wrote: “I wish to convey my absolute distress and horror at the environmental vandalism taking place…On the Tarwin-Inverloch road a huge unsightly swathe of vegetation has been cut, leaving a scar on the landscape that will take years to recover, if it ever does…The local community values the environment for its roadside habitat values and aesthetics and does not want to see this environmental vandalism continue. So-called ‘offsets’ are not a replacement for mature trees.”
Since the works started, two areas of the 27km power line route have generated the most number of enquiries. These are Walkerville Road and along the Inverloch-Venus Bay Road, near the Tarwin Lower cemetery.
In response to these concerns, South Gippsland Council convened a meeting in Leongatha on August 13 to give a limited number of residents an opportunity to speak with the general manager of the Bald Hills Wind Farm, Matthew Croome. Council staff and a representative from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) also attended the meeting.
“At the meeting, Mr Croome committed to investigate ways to minimise the vegetation removal along the Inverloch-Venus Bay Road and to investigate some replanting opportunities in areas where vegetation has already been removed,” explained Mr Bryan Sword, Council’s acting director of development services. “He also made a commitment to local residents that works in this area will not recommence until these opportunities have been investigated.”
Residents questioned whether the wind farm had approval to remove the vegetation and whether the local community was consulted. They also questioned why, in some areas, power poles are being placed in the road reserve and not within private property where vegetation has already been cleared.
“A planning permit was issued on 6 May approving these works,” Mr Sword said. “Consideration of the most appropriate alignment for the power line occurred over a four year period. Early consultation was between the wind farm proponent, local landowners, Council’s biodiversity officer and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI). These discussions focussed on identifying the most practicable alignment and minimising the amount of vegetation required to be removed. Locating power poles on private property required the consent of landowners, and whilst this was provided for a number of locations, agreement could not be secured from all landowners. A number of alternate design options and routes were considered and the final route was advertised for public comment as part of the planning permit process. The planning permit application was advertised in local newspapers and 98 adjoining landowners were directly notified of the application.”
According to a Council spokesperson, during the advertising period, Council received many enquiries about the application, and copies of the relevant plans were made available for public comment. As part of the planning permit application, an independent assessment of the amount of vegetation required to be removed was undertaken. This assessment was referred to DEPI and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority for comment prior to providing planning approval. Under Victoria’s Native Vegetation Assessment Framework, native and non-native vegetation is permitted to be removed, providing the application is consistent with the framework guidelines. This included providing an offset which protects native vegetation in perpetuity. An offset has been secured in Tarwin Lower and is 4.58 ha in size; this offset is greater than what is required under the guidelines.
Council is also investigating whether the works undertaken to date comply with the approval provided.
Dr Ellis said she was pleased that the vegetation clearing had been halted. “But I’m hoping that they will do far more than just stop the clearing temporarily. They have to make sure the offsets are appropriate. They have removed some very substantial trees along the road. The permit conditions should have made offsets as ‘like for like,’ that is revegetation on public land to create a corridor similar to the one presently destroyed.”