Road upgrade 'threat to ecology'
THE $60 million to fund construction of a seven kilometre stretch of highway at Glenugie is in the bank and the contractors are ready to roll.
The only things holding up the project is a tick of approval from the NSW Planning Minister and growing concerns from local environmentalists.
The proposed upgrade would see a four-lane divided highway constructed between Franklins Road and Eight Mile Lane, south of Grafton.
The existing highway would then be downgraded to a local service road.
During construction, the RTA estimates that a corridor will have to be cleared through state forest varying in width between 40 and 160 metres. The total land to be cleared is estimated at 85 hectares.
But members of the Clarence Environment Centre are concerned that the clearing of 85 hectares of bush for seven kilometres of highway is excessive.
Centre spokesperson John Edwards said the new highway would directly impact endangered ecological communities, threatened species and threatened species’ habitats, as well as prime agricultural land and timber producing forest.
One endangered species the RTA has identified as being significantly impacted by the new highway route is the weeping tea-tree.
“The Glenugie environmental assessment document admits that, not only does the endangered shrub occur within that section, but that they constitute the southernmost population of the species, and that a significant number will be bulldozed,” Mr Edwards said.
The centre is also raising concerns that the RTA underestimated environmental impacts of the new road in its initial reports.
Mr Edwards said the RTA’s January 2009 Terrestrial Ecology working paper claimed 2-3000 of threatened native tree, the square fruited ironbark, would be directly impacted by the proposed highway upgrade.
“When the Glenugie environmental assessment was presented we learned that, not only has the road’s ‘footprint’ been increased by an average 20 per cent to 60m wide, but that the RTA plans to clear all vegetation to double that width, an average 120m,” Mr Edwards said.
“The new estimate of the number of ironbarks that will now be destroyed is almost tripled to well over 6000, and this does not include the thousands more that will be destroyed when the remaining section of highway to Wells Crossing is completed.”
He said the environment centre was not opposed to the highway being upgraded. Instead it would like to see extra lanes added to the existing highway, a move it believes would reduce environmental damage by at least 70 per cent.
The decision on the Glenugie Highway route rests with the State Minster for Planning, Tony Kelly.
A spokesperson for the minister said the department was finalising its assessment but could not give a time frame for when a decision would be made.
The Glenugie upgrade will support nearly 250 jobs during construction and improve road safety on the Pacific Highway.