blueberry / Photo Jamie Brown / The Northern Star
blueberry / Photo Jamie Brown / The Northern Star

PETITION: Save our Orara River from berry farms

AN ONLINE petition entitled 'Save our Orara River from berry farms' has been created on iPetitions.com.

Aiming for at least 1000 signatures, the petition warns 'blueberry farms are taking over the valley' with over 1000 acres of blueberries will soon be 'lining the banks of the Orara'.

>> PETITION: Save our Orara River from berry farms

It claims environmentally significant sections of the river, including an area named the Chain Of Ponds which once consisted of 21 undulating ponds, have already suffered significant damage from blueberry farm development and threatens endangered frogs, birds and platypus.

I am 1km from the destruction and smell the dirt and get dust from the massive dam that replaced the Sacred Chain Of Ponds.

"We have written endless letters to EPA, Fisheries, Council, Local Gov and more to be blocked every way possible in trying to stop this," the petition reads.

"The water used to irrigate blueberries is massive, with approval granted! But no meter on volume pumped and no monitoring of chemicals used and amount.

"The list of poisons used on blueberries is massive - two A4 pages of toxic chemicals. Land is useless after such practices and will most definitely contaminate the Orara in a significant rain event."

The Orara River adjacent to a blueberry farm. Local residents are concerned the farms will diminish already limited water supplies and that chemicals could contaminate the river. Photo: Robyn Cooke
The Orara River adjacent to a blueberry farm. Local residents are concerned the farms will diminish already limited water supplies and that chemicals could contaminate the river. Photo: Robyn Cooke

The petition addresses particularly concern for an accredited chemical free Angus beef producer along the Old Glen Innes Rd who lives adjacent to one of the blueberry farms in question and that chemical spraying will travel through the air and contaminate his land.

Orara Valley residents have taken to social media to express their concerns for an area well known for outdoor recreational activities such as camping, bass fishing, kayaking and swimming.

Robyn Cooke, who posted a copy of the petition on the Grafton/Clarence Valley Community Group Facebook page, claimed double standards from the NSW Environmental Protection Authority.

"People need approval for a verandah but if you are destroying environment for agriculture and destroying water ways for agricultural purposes it's ok, bloody joke," she said.

"Tourists come from everywhere to enjoy our rivers, but won't be long when they find they are swimming in poison and dead fish floating by along with other animals.

"I am 1km from the destruction and smell the dirt and get dust from the massive dam that replaced the Sacred Chain Of Ponds."

"Sources have told me MP supports this toxic invasion. We just get rid of CSG and make way for blueberry toxic invasion.

"It's a massive secret invasion of our beautiful Valley and surrounds. At least now people are finding out how big this issue is and I most definitely won't be giving up on this."

Wendy Hedge is another resident who claims her livelihood has been negatively impacted by an increase in blueberry farming near her property.

"I was hoping to live my life with clean water, air and nature in my backyard," she said.

"Now I have no running creek and the terrifying thought of all the airborne chemicals. Even my tanks will be contaminated."

In 2015 John Edwards published a report on behalf of the Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) entitled 'Blueberry threat to significant wetlands Halfway Creek, south of Grafton, NSW'.

The comprehensive nine-page report details a 250 hectare property near Halfway Creek "recently purchased by a blueberry grower" stating the CEC had "strong reasons to be concerned", because "industry leaders are on record as lobbying Government to relax native vegetation laws to allow this, and other forests, to be cleared for blueberry plantations".

The endangered Coastal Petaltail Dragonfly was spotted at the Gilmores Lane wetland in danger of degradation from blueberry farm development. Photo: F Forest / Clarence Environment Centre
The endangered Coastal Petaltail Dragonfly was spotted at the Gilmores Lane wetland in danger of degradation from blueberry farm development. Photo: F Forest / Clarence Environment Centre Bill North

"Those concerns were magnified when we learned that the new owners had shown an interest in a series of waterholes in a drainage line along the western boundary as a possible water source, critical to the growing of blueberries. That drainage line runs in and out of private rural residential properties, and feeds directly into a series of significant wetlands to the south-east, so the thought of seeing the waterholes possibly enlarged as a water storage is untenable, both from an ecological perspective, and the perspective of neighbours' lifestyle choices which will be severely impacted."

The report also suggests fines for environmental breaches, including example of a $150,000 fine issued in 2011 for a large area of land "illegally cleared along the southern end of Gilmores Lane which also caused massive erosion and siltation of Dundoo Creek", did not act as a deterrent, but merely "considered a cost of doing business".



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