Gellibrand River Estuary: destruction imminent if development proceeds

o-100813-we_2484Information provided by: Friends of the Gellibrand River Estuary Wetland (FOGREW)            

A planning application for an ecotourism resort facility, lodged with the Corangamite Shire in early October will, if approved destroy the Gellibrand River Estuary Wetland and relict Princetown ”spits” in south west Victoria.

The planning application details the construction of a nine million dollar eco-tourism resort facility on 49ha of privately owned land, 11ha of which is planned for this development, bordering the Old Coach road, the Port Campbell National Park, the levee banks of the Gellibrand River and the Princetown Recreation Reserve.  The resort will be constructed on the estuarine floodplain of the Gellibrand river estuary wetland (see image below).

The application submitted by Montarosa P/L requires the following infrastructure; advertising signage, 300 seat restaurant with ancillary souvenir sales, reception and briefing facilities, 15 metre tall panoramic  lookout,  children’s playground, picnic areas, construction  of nature walks and bird hides, a boat shed with pontoon jetty for kayaks, paddle boards, small boat eco tours and hire. The construction of 14 two bed cabins and 6 three bed cabins, a two storey 20 room ecolodge with ancillary office, pool,  day spa, internal roads, sewage plant and 280 parking spaces. The plan requires entry/exit roads be turned from gravel to bitumen, widened and raised in height to 2 metres.   If planning approval is granted the facility aims to be operational by early 2019.

Friends of the Gellibrand River Estuary Wetland (FOGREW) are a community organisation set up to preserve, monitor and (where appropriate) assist in the management of the Gellibrand river estuary wetland.  The Gellibrand river is regarded as ‘one of the major coastal rivers in Victoria with its unique long confined floodplain, breach free levees promoting back swamps and absence of cut-off meanders ’ (www.vro.agriculture.vic.gov.au).  This lively functional, frequently flooding healthy river and estuarine wetland flows into the Twelve Apostle Marine National park and Southern Ocean at Princetown. This estuary wetland provides not only the physical junction between salt and fresh water but also the nursery and breeding ground for ocean and river dwelling aquatic, migratory and specialised estuary species.  It follows that healthy estuaries provide for healthy oceans.

If this development were to proceed at the nominated location the Gellibrand River estuary wetland will be destroyed.

FOGREW dispute the location of this development for the following reasons:

  • Decimation of the relict Princetown spits; ‘small elongated ridges with a relief of less than one meter that reflect the influence of ancient flood, tide currents and westerly winds’ (vro.agriculture.vic.gov.au ).  This is the location nominated for the construction of the ecolodge.
  • Acid sulphate soils are the naturally occurring predominant soil type of the wetlands (epa.vic.gov.au ). These soils are formed under water logged conditions and contain iron sulphide.  In an undisturbed state below the water table acid sulphate soils are benign however if the soils are drained, excavated or exposed to air by a lowering of the water table the sulphides react with oxygen to form sulfuric acid.  Release of the sulfuric acid can also release iron, aluminium and other heavy metals.  Once mobilised the acid and metals can create adverse impacts killing vegetation, seeping into and acidifying ground and surface water, killing fish and other aquatic organisms and degrading concrete and steel structures to the point of failure.
  • Alteration to estuarine flooding cycles caused by high seas, storm surges, river barring, high inland rainfall, infrastructure, tourist demand/request or an altered road boundary will be detrimental to fish, insect and amphibian breeding cycles. The Gellibrand River currently supports, ‘24 native species of fish including four species of Galaxias, two of Lamprey and the best population of Blackfish in Victoria. Significant migration, spawning and rearing of species such as eel, bream, tupong and mullet are also known to occur’, (corangamite.vic.gov.au ).  Data collected over the past 10 years by Estuary Watch, a volunteer led CCMA program, indicates that periodic estuary flooding is a necessary component to keeping our ocean systems functioning.  The CCMA using Estuary Watch data obtained by volunteers is currently reviewing their “Estuary Management Plan” which incorporates flooding management.  The plan is due for release in Dec 2016.
  • The Gellibrand River estuary wetland is rated as ‘significantly important’ by the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) and the China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA) (environment.gov.au ). Migratory birds such as the Orange bellied Parrot depend on consistency of the Gellibrand River estuary wetland environment for the provision of food and habitat (www.birdlife.org.au ).  In addition the following six endangered birds also make the Gellibrand River estuary wetland their home; the shy Australasian Bittern, Little Egret, Great Egret, Powerful Owl, Lewin’s Rail and the Hooded Plover (www.corangamite.vic.gov.au ).  All shy birds, these and the migratory birds when faced with en mass human disturbance will become extinct or move from the estuary as they have done in other developed  estuaries around our coast and the world.
  • With the introduction of materials; roadway, building materials and tradespeople, vegetation, an influx of tourists, food and food waste, hard rubbish, traffic (the plan estimates 696 daily trips) and their supporting services, rubbish collection, cleaning and servicing comes chemicals, weeds, bacteria and fungi such as Phytophthora.  With each new introduction the natural cycles, flora and fauna of the estuary are threatened.
  • Two previously registered Aboriginal places located within 1 km of the subject site, comprising shell middens/artefacts have been identified by the application. In addition there are two areas of Aboriginal cultural heritage sensitivity which intersect the subject site: one being a ‘park’; and the other being ‘waterways’. The subject site is therefore partly situated within an area of cultural heritage sensitivity (p.15 Montarosa P/L planning application).
  • Bushfire threat through an increased number of people bringing greater ignition opportunities.

 

Corangamite Shire Councillors will be sitting on the 20th of December, 7pm at the Killara centre in Camperdown to decide the fate of the Gellibrand River estuary wetland.

 

 

Join us in saving this estuarine wetland.

  • Make a submission to the Corangamite Shire by the 10th November 2016.
  • Begin a local petition for lodging at a Council meeting.
  • Attend a protest rally at 11am on the 20th of November, 2016 at the Princetown Recreation Reserve.
  • Tell friends, family and all those who care about flora, fauna and our collective environment.

‘People often equate wetlands with waste land; a place to be drained, filled in, burnt off and            re-purposed.  What they don’t see is the life they nurse and prepare for surrounding environments’ (www.ramsar.org )

FOGREW contacts

Neil Boxshall    5598 8169               info@arabellacountryhouse.com.au

Kim Morton      5598 8143              whiteibisnursery@gmail.com

Social Media

Visit Facebook, ‘Not On Princetown Estuary’ (NOPE)

 

References

Australian Dept of the Environment & Energy – www.environment.gov.au

Birdlife Australia – www.birdlife.org.au

Corangamite Shire – www.corangamite.vic.gov.au

Environmental Protection Authority – www.epa.vic.gov.au

Montarosa P/L – Planning application report

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – www.ramsar.org

Victorian Resources online – www.vro.agriculture.vic.gov.au

 

 

Mouth of the Gellibrand River

picture1floodge_20100813_g2-flood_2558o-100813-we_2484

Proposed Facility site site
Photo taken of the Gellibrand River Estuary Wetland flooded by storm surge in autumn 2010

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