The residents of Congo are very concerned that a local land owner has the intention and possibly the right to remove protected trees and habitat+ expand mining closer to the creek on land bordering Congo creek and Eurobodalla National Park next to the northern end of Congo Village. "If this is on the level why the rush, why not make all the necessary info available to the public?' says local resident Linda Bennett
"Residents went to Council, asked if there were any DA’s lodged on the property and told there’s been no DA lodged since a machinery shed was approved (they went in last year). Linda Bennett and other concerned local residents told the Beagle: "We have been told that he has the right to remove trees for routine agricultural activities relating to fencing and road re-alignment. The large number of trees with X's on them and where the pegs are running through the heavily treed block indicate these new works will be much closer to the creek and could open the possibility for the mining operation on that land much closer to the creek as well. Despite numerous requests from residents, Council has not released details of the proposed road realignment.
"During the discussion it became apparent that we need to know what the “existing rights” are for the extractive industry as the quarry on the property in question was approved in 1979. We need to know where the legal grey areas are so that they are not exploited.
"What we have seen of the 1979 DA gives broad terms.
"For example, there’s no map attached to this document that specifies exactly where within Lot 197 mining is allowed – just so long as it’s within the boundaries of Lot 197, which go right up to the creek and the bridge. There is no indication of any flora / fauna reserve on the council maps. "The crux of the issue seems to be that tree clearing on this property is subject to the Native Vegetation Act giving the right to fell those trees without lodging any form of DA. "For example, tree clearing undertaken as track maintenance would fall under RAMA’s (“Routine Agricultural Maintenance Actions” under Native Veg Act). RAMA’s do not require a DA to be lodged and are not subject to council approval. Whereas, we understand that the 1979 DA required permission to clear trees.
"WE NEED ASSURANCES FROM COUNCIL AND THE LAND OWNER THAT NO CLEARING WILL TAKE PLACE ON THE LAND FOR AT LEAST TWO WEEKS. "This will give time for a information request to council (10 business days) be reviewed by the public and the media so it is clear what is allowed and develop appropriate environmental safeguards / mitigation
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The Congo Concerned Citizens are raising the following Concerns with Eurobodalla Council stating that:
- It is a rush job over the school holidays to get this through
- Clearing of significant Ecologically Endangered Species and mine expansion by stealth. This area is a Bangalay Sand Forest endangered ecological community.
- Habitat and food trees for greater glider (listed as locally endangered and supposed to be protected under council policy, + Fed/State Enviro Acts etc., powerful owls glossy blacks etc.
- Sedimentation of risk, damaging the health and vitality of Congo Creek as more sedimentation will block up the creek, preventing essential creek river mouth openings. It is currently a healthy creek very popular with tourists and locals for fishing (octopus and rays were there throughout the summer and indication of how healthy it currently is)
- Increase flood risk - most of Congo creek floodplain is on his side of the creek so any mining closer to it, especially within its 5 metre wall would block the creek and enhance flood height.
- Overclearing of road to a 80km capacity when there is no need for clearing beyond the 50km requirements
- Concerns that this is also being pushed through before the new council planning manager starts.
" If this clearing and potential mine extension goes ahead, it flies in the face of the branding that the Eurobodalla is trying to achieve “Unspoilt” says Congo Concerned Citizen Linda Bennett Ms Bennett said today: "As of yesterday, clearing started about 1 metre from the creek, which locals believe to be in breach of the water management act. "While most environmental legislation and planning instruments gazetted since the 1979 approval, can't override the existing development, maybe these two factors would be triggered? ie (1) the proposed fenceline clearing is not required due to enough cleared land already for a fence, so can be seen as inappropriate and opportunistic use of the RAMAs (see below for further detail); and (2) it could be argued that clearing all the way to the creek/estuary is not required for the mining operation and does not comply with any of the "Controlled activity" exemptions under the Water Management Act Recent vegetaton clearing within 40m of the estuary: The NSW Water Mgt Act is very strict about what you can do on "waterfront land", which includes the estuary and land within 40m of the high water mark (see definition in attached PDF). The are exemptions to "controlled activities", but in this case it looks like none of those apply, Council and the Water Management Authority will now be formally asked if the landowner has done the right thing and obtained a permit to conduct a "Controlled Activity" to clear vegetation within 40m of the estuary. We have continually asked Eurobodalla Shire Council these questions but they wont tell us, despite repeated requests for information. Acid Sulphate Soils (ASS). The site is mapped as Class 2 under the NSW ASS mapping. This would trigger ASS assessment for any activity >1m below natural ground surface level and and/or any activity that would lower the goundwater table. This is a big issue and can cause fish kills in estuaries. The land owner may attempt to ameliorate this by keeping water in the holes to stop formation of ASS, but again no information forthcoming to concerned residents.SEPP 14 wetlands Parts of the site are mapped as SEPP 14. Normally, these require an impact assessment. It is highly unlikely that a sand quarry would be approved in a SEPP 14 wetland today. Native vegetation Act. The proposed tree clearing for a fence is possibly in contradiction to the intentions of exemptions under the Native Vegetation Act. That is, the clearing is being done under NV Act exemptions, known as Routine Agricultural Management Activities (RAMAs) However, given the the tree canopy is already thinned and the understorey is completely cleared, there is ample existing land next to the trees to erect a fence. It appears to be highly likely that the landholder is using the RAMAs to avoid having to get permission from Council to clear trees for the (quarry) works, which was one of the stipulations in the original development approval document. Threatened Species Legislation. The site comprises Bangalay Sand Forest Endangered Ecological Community. Plus, given its location (near the NP, estuary, wetlands and other bushland) and habitat features on site, the site would undoubtedly provide habitat for numerous threatened fauna species. e.g. the site is important for allowing north/south movement of Greater Gliders, Yellow-bellied Gliders, and other arboreal mammals, as the creek is narrow enough in this area to allow these species to glide over it, whereas further east the creek is too wide. Biodiversity Corridor (Eurobodalla LEP 2012). The northern end of the lot is mapped as Biodiversity Corridor. Near the Congo creek bridge