THE Save Westernport group has described as “appalling” the clearing of several hectares of native bushland at the proposed site of the AGL floating storage and regasification unit at Crib Point jetty.
Contractors hired by the Port of Hastings Development Authority used a bulldozer and backhoe for the works, Tuesday 18 February.
“Our followers and supporters are deeply concerned that this valuable and protected vegetation appears to have been cleared without notice and without necessary permits,” Save Westernport secretary Julia Stockigt said.
“Such clearing on the border of the internationally significant Ramsar wetlands is appalling.”
Save Westernport members complained to Mornington Peninsula Shire, the Department of Environment, Lands, Water and Planning, as well as Nepean MP Chris Brayne about the clearing which they say was unauthorised.
“The extensive area of vegetation cleared appears to align precisely with the area marked out in AGL’s plans for their proposed Mercaptan injection plant,” Ms Stockigt said.
“During our initial phone calls to the port authority we were told this was carried out to protect the area from bushfire – but it’s a very strange time of year for bushfire prevention.
“All clearing was limited to an area on the northern side of the jetty which is furthest away from the pipeline and accompanying infrastructure.
“If, as the port authority claims, the vegetation was cleared to protect the area around the Crib Point jetty from fire, it seems unusual that other areas of vegetation adjoining the jetty have been left uncleared.”
The Port of Hastings Development Authority’s Michael Dillon in response to the Western Port group’s complaints admitted the “extent of the clearing has exceeded our expectations and we are investigating the matter further”.
“If we had known the extent of clearing beforehand we would have informed the community consultation committee in advance,” he said.
Mr Dillon said the authority “reluctantly has to remove vegetation on our site from time to time to manage bushfire risks, but we always ensure this is done with the advice of professional arborists who advise us on what is required to balance our safety requirements, protect the local environment and to ensure the works are compliant”.
Mr Dillon said a “qualified arborist [had] undertaken these works in accordance with the relevant standards just as we have done in the past”.
Ms Stockigt said the port authority would need land clearing permits under Clause 52.17 (Native Vegetation) of the Mornington Peninsula Planning Scheme or under DWELP’s Guidelines for removal of native vegetation.
“They said they would contact us with the relevant permits but that was over 10 days ago and we have heard nothing,” she said.
“The area was the known habitat of echidnas and threatened bird species yet no assessment of that wildlife appears to have taken place.
She said it appeared the “qualified arborists” referred to by the authority had used “backhoes and bulldozers to carry out their work”.