More than 100 people gathered to show their concern at the clearing taking place at the Emerald Beach property on the highway near Lake Russell.
More than 100 people gathered to show their concern at the clearing taking place at the Emerald Beach property on the highway near Lake Russell. TREVOR VEALE

Protesters say environmental laws not cutting through

FOR over a year Emerald Beach residents and commuters have been watching on as clearing escalates on a property fronting the Pacific Highway.

Fed up with what they see as ongoing unregulated destruction, they mobilised in a demonstration on Tuesday morning.

"Most of the people here have taken the morning off work and over half of those contacted couldn't make it. That shows how significant this is - we can't have the world run by cowboys," Vivienne Shorter said.

Another woman said her children (nine and 11-years who attend Sandy Beach school) urged her to attend.

A large dam is under construction and trees have been cut down and burned in piles with several fire trucks called to the property recently. With much of the work taking place at night or on the weekend residents are growing increasingly suspicious.

Neighbours have been told the clearing is for intensive agriculture.

Jonathan Cassell, convener for the Coffs Harbour Greens and secretary of the Coffs Coast Surfriders says the local environment is dying a "death of a thousand cuts".

"The increased sediment load into nearby creeks will flow on to our marine park with devastating outcomes. This is just indicative of the State Government's inability to properly regulate farming in order to protect the environment," he said.

The property is on the western side of the highway north of Lake Russell and several nearby residents have contacted various authorities to see what can be done about it.

But with so many different departments upholding a complex array of environmental laws, residents are feeling increasingly frustrated.

Judith Webster moved to the area from Sydney three years ago to get away from over development but is concerned the 'megadepartments' tasked with upholding environmental law are virtually ineffective.

"This is symptomatic of the overall destruction of the northern beaches. Just one more nail in the coffin that removes the wildlife from the area."

From koala habitat to coastal wetlands the property in question contains a number of significant environmental assets mapped and supposedly protected by different laws administered by various levels of government.


Protest at land clearing western side of Highway at Emerald Beach18 DEC 2018
VEGETATION REMOVED: The clearing on the western side of Highway at Emerald Beach TREVOR VEALE

An Osprey nest on the property, which would be protected under threatened species legislation, remains intact but with piles of burnt trees left to smoulder for days right near it, residents fear the birds have been scared away.

Coffs Harbour City Councillor Sally Townley was first made aware of the issue six months ago and she describes an "endless loop" of governing bodies never quite meeting up.

Currently Development Applications are not required for intensive agriculture in rural areas and the matter was up for discussion at council's last meeting for the year but was referred back to the Agricultural Advisory Committee for further consideration.

Cr Townley believes there should be serious consideration given to introducing the requirement for DAs but others including Councillor Tegan Swan would rather see the appropriate State Government authorities step up to the mark when upholding environmental law.

"It's regulated on so many different levels it's hard to get a collaborative approach so that things actually get done. There is too much room for things to slip through the cracks."

"The State Government needs to step up and fund it. We need to support the agencies that have the power. I don't think DAs will fix the situation and they won't apply retrospectively and we're almost at capacity - the big growth in the industry has already happened."

A number of departments including the NSW Environment Protection Authority and the Office of Environment and Heritage have been contacted for comment. The Advocate invites the owner of the property to contact us for a comment.