Submission regarding referral Reference Number: 2015/7520

In July 2015 we discovered the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) had quietly lodged a referral to Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt that included plans to conduct major construction work that would destroy critically endangered forest and likely wipe out one of Sydney's last remaining colonies of endangered Green and Golden Bell Frogs. This is our submission.

Green and Golden Bell Frogs mating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attention: Minister for Environment Greg Hunt

Date: July 31, 2015

Submission regarding referral Reference Number: 2015/7520

Title of Referral: Roads and Maritime Services/Transport - land/east of King Georges Road and St Peters/NSW/Construction and operation of the WestConnex New M5 

Dear Minister Hunt

WestCONnex Action Group (WAG) is a community group representing residents from across western, inner and south-west Sydney who are campaigning against the proposed WestConnex toll road. It is our belief – one supported by many independent experts in this area – that this toll road is the wrong project for Sydney, and will do little to ease traffic congestion. We also have serious concerns with the project’s huge cost and ongoing financial risk; its lack of transparency and planning processes; and the destruction and pollution it will cause to communities, homes, businesses, green spaces and endangered species. 

We were notified by a member of the Wolli Creek Preservation Society that the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) acting on behalf of the WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA) had made referral 2015/7520 to the Department of the Environment in regards to the planned WestConnex New M5. This referral notified the Department that the RMS intends to take actions that pose a significant and potentially fatal risk to endangered species, including a Green and Golden Bell Frog (GGBF) colony in Arncliffe and a critically endangered stand of Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark bushland near Beverly Hills. 

The RMS acknowledges in its referral that the impact on 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 1999 (EPBC Act). 

We ask that you reject this referral as unacceptable under section 74 of the EPBC Act, as detailed below. Alternatively, we call on you as the Minister responsible for the EPBC Act to call a public inquiry in relation to the referred action.

SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES WITH THE REFERRAL / REASONS FOR REJECTION

1. Poor quality information of information provided about the WestConnex project. The referral document provides no data or concrete evidence to support assertions about the need for the project, claims about its benefits, or justification for the threats to endangered species, or why alternatives were not preferred.

2. Misleading claims about project impact; unsupported claims about minimising impact. The RMS consistently understates WestConnex’s impacts on both surrounding communities and endangered species in the referral document. The referral document fails to communicate to decision makers the nature of the construction site at Kogarah Golf Course. And because no design is available for evaluation, and statements made in the referral document re designing the project to “minimise impact” can only be taken as a expression of purpose, rather than a an action that can be evaluated for its effectiveness in protecting endangered species.

3. Poor process and misleading statements about community consultation. The RMS 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 the WDA’s community consultation in the referral document.

4. Failure to look at project as part of larger whole and in regional context. The RMS has made no attempt in its referral document 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. Potential threats to other endangered species, including endangered migratory birds, need to be more rigorously examined. 

5. Undermining and breaking of conditions set for other projects. The current surviving and now threatened fauna and flora colonies are the product of offsets or mitigation measures put in place for previous projects, including the M5 East tunnel that the WestConnex New M5 seeks to duplicate. Now the RMS proposes to remove or drastically damage these offsets, thus overriding previous conditions for development.

6. Threats to endangered or vulnerable species. The Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea), Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark Forest (CCRIF), Turpentine Ironbark Forest and Grey-headed Flying Foxes (GHFF) are all under threat from the WestConnex New M5. Yet this referral document underestimates risks and potential impacts, does not include the impact of key aspects of the project, ignores crucial research, and is vague at best about proposed mitigation strategies. 

We therefore ask that you reject the RMS referral on the basis that the referral document:

  • Lacks critical information (e.g. the nature of the tunneling construction site and the impact of a ventilation stack) 
  • Contains inaccuracies and misleading statements
  • Unreasonably segments this project from impending projects, including the planned F6 motorway and another major property development on the site, which is reportedly being promoted by the NSW Planning Department.

For these and other reasons, the referral document is not fit for evaluation. As a result, we ask you to use your powers as Minister to reject the referral under sections 72, 74a and 74b of the EPBC Act. The actions should be rejected as unacceptable under Section 74c of the Act.

Alternatively, we ask that the referral 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 and the current management of the endangered species. Alternatively, these matters could be included into a broader Federal/State public inquiry into the WestConnex project.

This application highlights the continuing need for an independent Federal assessment of significant environmental matters, particularly when the proponent is part of 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, yet this is not even mentioned in the referral document.

It is our view that the Federal Department should demand more information about the NSW government’s relationship to this additional high impact development. The referral document highlights how inappropriate it would be for the NSW Planning Department to assess this referral if the Department is promoting development on the very site that is a significant part of this referral. Any such development on top of major tunneling and construction works could only further threaten endangered species.

Ultimately, the Department of the Environment should not approve the proposed destruction of the endangered colony of GGBF or the removal of critically endangered bushland. Vague promises of offsets should not be accepted at face value. Even if the 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). Both endangered species were both impacted by the original M5. 

The remainder of this submission expands upon the summary of Key Issues 1-6 identified above to provide the Minister with a more detailed rationale for rejection of the RMS referral. 

DETAILED ISSUES WITH REFERRAL AND REASONS FOR REJECTION 

1. Poor quality information of information provided about the WestConnex project

The sectional planning project approach to the 33km WestConnex motorway prevents serious consideration of the impacts of the larger WestConnex project. This means that while justifications for the 'whole of project' are used to justify local threats, there is no overall analysis and evaluation of the environmental threats from the whole project. 

Based on the quality of the information presented in this proposal, it is impossible for an informed judgment to be made about its potential impact on matters of national environmental significance in either specific habitats or regionally.

No design is yet available for this M5 duplicate project. No business case has been published to support the assertions in this referral. The NSW Auditor General severely criticised an earlier version of the 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 referral documents. 

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 referral document quickly shows that no evidence is provided that can provide the basis for a serious evaluation. Why has the RMS rushed to file this referral document before a design has been completed and more evidence is available against which to test assertions? 

There is evidence that this referral document was begun months ago but then was rushed in completion. Why are there three different dates on the referral document – October 2014, January 2015 and July 2015?

Ten days is not enough for a detailed response to every issue raised by this referral document, so we will use one example from the core objectives to show how easily expert evidence can be found to contest the RMS’s assertions, and demonstrate why they should not be taken at false value. 

One objective of WestConnex as stated by the RMS 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." Yet an independent report into WestConnex carried out by SGS Economics & Planning and commissioned by the City of Sydney found that the motorway is unlikely to reduce traffic on local roads and will not benefit a large proportion of Sydney commuters, including those in Western Sydney. Independent experts have also argued that estimates for such toll roads rely on outdated traffic models that overestimate usage, leading to financial problems for the tolled motorway and increased congestion on tolled alternatives.

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 WestConnex 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 the King Georges Road interchange shows that the intersection would be even more congested when this preliminary project is completed.

We are not arguing that independent assessments should be accepted at this stage by those evaluating this referral document. We are arguing that the overall quality of the referral document is so poor, and the information provided so superficial, that it is not possible to evaluate evidence for the 'controlled action'. 

The evaluation of alternatives in this referral document can also only be described as vague, lacking in detail, and extremely superficial. Again, the RMS does not provide any data to support its claims on page 12 of the referral. 

Unless specific evidence is 'on the table', risks and benefits 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. For this and other reasons, the referral should be rejected. 

2. Misleading claims about project impact; unsupported claims about minimising impact

On page 13, the referral document 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”.  Yet the reality is that 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 RMS’s tendency to constantly understate WestConnex’s impacts in the referral document.

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. The WDA “Community update” delivered to residents in July 2015 states that the golf course may also be the site of a ventilation stack. Yet there is no discussion of the implications of this in the referral document – which could be considered reason enough to reject it.  

On page 13, the referral document 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, including the statement (taken from the referral document) in relation to the critically endangered Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark Forest (CRCIF) located north of the M5 East Motorway, that “Opportunities to minimise the impact to the endangered ecological community would be considered during design development". It is simply impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of any chosen design in miminising impact because no design is available.

3. Poor process and misleading statements about community consultation

On page 15, the referral document 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. 

For example, in the area surrounding the Kogarah Golf Club, no information had been provided to the community until after this referral document was lodged on July 17. A resident of the area who lived through the controversial development of the flawed original M5 has told us that her family had explicitly been told that the route for this project would not impact on Arncliffe. 

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.

To our knowledge, the RMS's intention to use the Kogarah Golf Course as a mid-point for its tunnel excavation only became public on July 15, 2015. Although the preparation of this referral document appears to have begun as far back as October 2014 (see pages 1 and 2 of the referral document), the RMS took no steps 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. 

Yet the referral document shows the RMS has known about its preferred route since October 2014. The first two pages of the referral document 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 referral document) was in November 2014. 

Since this referral was made, the WDA has also told the media it began negotiations with the management of Kogarah Golf Club for the site in December 2014

The NSW government announced the midpoint construction site on the Kogarah Golf Course on July 15 without any mention of the threat to endangered species. On July 16, the WDA held a community information event in a registered club at Kingsgrove. Again, no information about the threat to endangered species was made available or provided. 

An official WDA “Community update” brochure dated July 2015, which has been distributed in hard copy and electronic form, vaguely describes the construction site but fails to make any mention of the impact on an endangered species. This failure to inform local residents about the proposed actions effectively denied members of the local community – who could well have special knowledge or interest – the right to comment on the project. 

This referral document was signed off on July 7, 2015. The RMS then 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 and alerted several community groups, including ours. If it had not been for that person, the 10-day consultation period could have quietly passed without any interested citizen or group knowing of the need for public input.

Rather than being consulted, the community has been deliberately kept in the dark. This failure to accurately referral document WDA's and RMS's dealings with the public is disturbing. 

4. Failure to look at project as part of larger whole and in regional context 

The referral document states that the M5 duplicate is part of a much bigger project involving more than 33km of exposed motorway and tunnels. 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 planned harbor crossing. 

Even more seriously, the RMS mention only in passing that Area 3 – which contains the habitat of the GGBF – 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 dire threats to the endangered GGBF colony. 

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 of 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 the Wolli Creek bushland, and some endangered species and remnants of bushland.

Despite these efforts, some of the Marsh Street wetlands, including habitat of the Golden and Green Bell Frog species, were damaged on the Lower Cooks River.  As a condition of approval and in an effort to save the frog colony, two breeding ponds were created near the original habitat. This is now the proposed site for construction of the WestConnex New M5 as outlined in the referral.

Since 2014, the RMS has known that the proposed WestConnex route includes a critically endangered 1.8 hectare remnant of Cooks River Castlereagh Iron Bark forest near the Canterbury Golf Course that was conserved from the original M5. The RMS now seeks to sacrifice 80% of the critically endangered patch of bushland.

The RMS should not be allowed to wipe out previous conditions of approval in order to build yet another motorway, especially in the absence of an available business case, an evidence-based justification or EIS. 

The referral document 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”. We can conclude then that the effect of this proposal is to break one of the approval conditions for the original M5.

The same body that imposed the M5 on reluctant communities is seeking to justify the removal of a patch of critically endangered bushland for a new motorway. The referral document notes that current threats to this bushland patch of CRCIF are “urban edge effects”. Later these are referring to as being threats from the adjacent M5 motorway (lighting impacts, noise, human disturbance). 

This should alert those at the Department of the Environment, which is tasked with the duty of protecting the environment, to the dangers of further threatening endangered species through the construction of the WestConnex motorway. It also raises questions about the quality of management of the conservation area. This should be investigated, rather than the degradation being used as a reason to justify the removal of 77% of this critically endangered bushland. 

6. Threats to protected and endangered species

Green and Golden Bell Frog (GGBF) – Litoria aurea

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The Arncliffe GGBF population has been described as being one of only two surviving 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.

The referral document 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, designs 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 exists, and specialist studies have been carried out, then why weren't these included and discussed in the referral document?

Most particularly, the referral fails to describe the nature of the construction site, which will be the mid point tunneling site for the New M5. There is no mention at all of the impact of noise and vibration on the GGBF, nor 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 Cintra Park in Concord, which will be a similar mid-point site for the WestConnex M4 East tunnel, lights will be used during periods of darkness. Each day, hundreds of trucks removing waste will travel onto adjacent streets. This intensive and heavy construction will seriously impact across the whole Kogarah Golf Club area and the surrounding streets.    

The first M5 motorway destroyed some frog habitat in the Marsh Street wetland. The M5 East breeding ponds were a specified requirement of the RMS (then RTA) development approval as compensation for lost and altered habitat in the Marsh Street and Eve Street wetland areas, where GGBF had bred previously in storm water detention structures. According to monitoring referral documents attached to the referral, sightings of frogs have decreased on what remains of the Marsh Street wetlands. The habitat for the frogs has always included the Kogarah Golf Course, and there have been continued sightings of frogs there within the planned construction zone and at least one recorded breeding event within this area. Now much of this habitat, including ponds where frogs have been seen in recent years, will be destroyed if this referral is to be approved.

Even the RMS-established breeding ponds, which the WDA claims will be outside of this construction zone, are just 50m from the edge of the construction site. Insufficient information is provided for a decision maker to evaluate the chances of the breeding ponds surviving or pathways existing through a massive construction site for frogs. The authors of the referral document also fail to analyse in detail the current state the frog colony in these breeding ponds, even though Dr Arthur White has monitored the site since 2000.

The proposed mitigation actions are not explained and appear insufficient to save the population from declining or even becoming locally extinct. In relation to the mention of possible mitigation, it is disturbing that an important research article published by Arthur White and Raymond Pyke about GGBF translocation 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.

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).

This article, ignored by the referral document, 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 frog) issued in April 2014. Amazingly, there is also no reference or discussion in the referral document to these guidelines. 

The proposed actions in this referral would breach the guidelines and raise the possibility that for a number of unknown reasons, the NSW government has not been ensuring that the owners of a large part of the remaining frog habitat follow basic conservation practices. This should concern the Department and trigger an inquiry into the nature of current recent practices have been in relation to his rare surviving Sydney frog colony.

Without a preliminary investigation, surely it would not be possible to evaluate any proposed offset or mitigation plans? Is translocation part of any potential offset or mitigation plans? How practical are these plans, and 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.

The key document does include a referral to the aforementioned White and Pyke (2008) article. This 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 referral documenting 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’. It is important therefore that consideration be given to the effects of this possible future development and that contingencies be put in place in relation to ensuring the ongoing viability of the Lower Cooks River Key Population of the GGBF.”

The management plan lists the names of a number of organisations that were consulted in the formation of the Management Plan. These include local councils and the Wolli Creek Preservation Society. The contribution to management of the frog habitat or the views on action that pose a significant threat are not considered in the referral document.

It would appear that in personal communications Dr White has made it clear to the RMS consultant that he has concerns about the chances for survival of the Arncliffe GGBF. Why is this? He also reports that access for monitoring purposes to the Marsh Street wetlands was denied in 2014. Who denied that and why? If predators and disease have taken hold on the golf course, why has not the NSW Department of Environment been notified and corrective action taken?

The referral document states that field studies were carried out up to 2015.  However the last monitoring referral document is Dr White’s referral document for the particularly dry season of September 2013 to April 2014. No monitoring could be made of the Marsh Street wetlands because access was denied. Why was this? Adult frogs were detected on some nights during the survey period but juvenile frogs were not detected.  Adult frogs were detected on the golf course.

Frog numbers need to be monitored on a long-term basis and White attributed the low numbers in 2014 to particularly dry conditions. He concluded that the explanation for the reduced numbers would not be known until weather conditions change. He refers in his referral document to a further attached referral document, but this is missing from the submitted document.

The Frog and Tadpole Study Group has made a substantial major voluntary contribution over the years to ensuring the clearing and maintenance of the ponds but there is no evidence of whether that process continues in 2015. To a lay observer, the ponds would appear to be overgrown.  It is regrettable that the RMS has supplied no information about the most up-to-date surveys and health of the breeding bonds and habitat. All of this raises questions about the sufficiency and bona fides of this application.

The NSW government acknowledged in 2008 that the F6 has the potential to wipe out the GGBF population. The WestConnex New M5 represents just as grave a threat, especially when one considers that the F6 is still planned to come to the site. If we want to protect the GGBF frog, these actions must be prohibited.

We have read a referral document 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?

Cumberland Ecology carried out surveys on the Kogarah Golf Course between 2006 and 2009. GGBFs 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. 

Mr 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.) 

Mr 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 GGBF at the Kogarah Golf Club. 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 potential further disruption, construction and vibration. While residents have been told that there is a potential ventilation stack on the site, this is not discussed in the referral document at all. 

We agree with and adopt criticism of the referral document by the Wolli Creek Preservation Society (WCPS). The descriptions of habitats and maps within the Kogarah Golf Course 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. This in turn would likely cause the change of its listing from nationally vulnerable to endangered. We request that the proposed action be dismissed as unacceptable under section 74B EPBC Act and the referral be rejected. 

Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark Forest (CCRIF)

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The WestConnex New M5 would remove a remnant of the CCRIF of the Sydney Basin Bioregion, which was listed by the Department of the 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 that will further fragment an 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 referral should be rejected as unacceptable under section 74B EPBC Act.

The tone of the discussion in the referral document in regards to thus CCRIF remnant is disturbing. It 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” (p20).

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 ought to be even more valuable today after being protected and managed for conservation by RMS.

In addition, the Department’s own Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (s266B) Approved Conservation Advice for the CCRIF says:

 “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 2013)

This CCRIF remnant is clearly of moderate-high condition given the criteria and diagnostics provided in the Approved Conservation Advice. It is largely weed-free, greater than 0.5 ha in area, and east of Riverstone. If the understory is more than 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 CCRIF, as 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. 

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.

It would be impossible for the RMS to mitigate or offset the loss of this CCRIF remnant. There are no similar remnants available for conservation in the area; 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. 

Turpentine Ironbark Forest

The Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest in the Sydney Basin Bioregion is listed as endangered. Its main canopy species are Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera), Grey Ironbark (Eucalyptus paniculata), White Stringybark (Eucalyptus globoidea), Red Mohogany (Eucalyotus resinfera) and Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata). 

It is highly likely that the impact of the construction and operation of the proposed WestConnex New M5 would degrade this remnant of endangered forest. With no detailed design available by which to assess this, the referral document should be rejected on the basis of insufficient information.

Grey-headed Flying Foxes (GHFF) 

2grey-headed_flying_fox_img0526.jpg 

The camp of the GHFF at Turrella is indicated as a camp of National Importance in the Draft EPBC Act Policy Statement (DoE 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 quite 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.’s submission on this referral 2015/7520 proposed future monitoring of the Turrella population alone will not ensure that there are no significant impacts (p10). 

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, and the proposed action be rejected as unacceptable under section 74B EPBC Act. 

CONCLUSION 

For all the reasons stated above, we ask you to use your powers as Minister to reject the referral under sections 72, 74a and 74b of the EPBC Act. The actions should be rejected as unacceptable under Section 74c of the Act. 

Alternatively, we ask that the referral be evaluated under Federal environmental law using a public inquiry.


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