Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 440
Macquarie ACT 2614
Chief Planning Executive
Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate Customer Service
GPO Box 158
Canberra ACT 2601
Reference: Application for an exemption of an EIS for Molonglo Valley Stage 3 urban development
Friends of Grasslands (FOG) is a community group dedicated to the conservation of natural temperate grassy ecosystems in south-eastern Australia, included related fauna species. FOG advocates, educates and advises on matters to do with the conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work. FOG is based in Canberra and its members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public. FOG has had a long-standing interest in developments in the Molonglo Valley that might impact on grassy ecosystems and species, has provided many submissions and is a member of the Molonglo Bush on the Boundary Group.
FOG has a number of concerns with the request for exemption for the development of the Molonglo Stage 3 urban area (the project), and opposes its approval. FOG notes that there are six items that are identified in the S211 Application Supporting Documentation (Umwelt 2017) report (henceforth, identified as the Exemption Report) that will, or may potentially, be triggered by the development of Molonglo Stage 3. We note on P25 (Umwelt 2017):
“In conclusion, it is considered that the impacts to protected matters listed under the EPBC and NC Acts are well understood for the project area. While some species may be present or utilise the site for foraging, the management and offset measures established under the NES Plan (see Section 5), particularly the retention and management of key areas of box gum woodland, would effectively mitigate impacts to these species.”
FOG accepts this conclusion, but does not believe that the development of Molonglo Stage 3, as shown in Figure 2.2 of the Exemption Report will in fact comply with the agreed Matters of National Environmental Significance Plan (2011) (the NES Plan). FOG therefore believes a full investigation is required to determine the biodiversity impacts as they relate to the intent and outcomes identified in the agreement made between the ACT and Commonwealth Governments as defined in the NES Plan.
We have two levels of concern with the development project such that exemption from an EIS is not warranted:
- Non-compliance with the NES Plan that will result a likely reduction in condition of offsets (Kama Nature Reserve and Molonglo River Reserve) and in areas to be retained and adaptively managed (Patches C, H and N);
- Loss of biodiversity identified in more recent studies (Ecological Australia 2013; Biosis 2016) within the FUA boundary, namely hollow-bearing trees, loss of areas of critically endangered Natural Temperate Grassland and Box-Gum Woodland and loss of habitat for the vulnerable Pink-tailed Worm-lizard.
We elaborate on these matters below.
1. Non-compliance with the NES Plan
Buffers for Kama Reserve and for the Molonglo River
The Molonglo NES Plan states that one action will be to:
“Establish a buffer outside the Kama Nature Reserve between the reserve and the proposed development area, and allow for appropriate uses consistent with nature conservation uses of the reserve. The buffer will be developed to ensure that fire management is undertaken outside of the Kama Nature Reserve and will provide protection against urban edge effects” (our emphasis)
and that this will be undertaken
“As part of the final Planning and Design Framework for stage 3”.
However, Figure 2.2 in the Exemption Report identifies a very narrow buffer of “urban open space” to the urban edge adjoining Kama Reserve, and the report states that:
“This buffer area has been included in a number of investigations as mentioned above. Further assessment of any impacts will be conducted at the EDP stage of the process”.
It is not adequate to state that further assessments of impacts will be conducted at the EDP stage of the process. Assessments of impacts need to be provided so that the impacts can be assessed against the NES Plan agreed action. The width and use of the buffer around Kama Reserve needs to be described and identified on maps, to ensure MNES requirements are met as development proceeds. Clearly a 40 m buffer will not be adequate protection of wildfire for the development area, so there will be a requirement to include a Strategic Firefighting Advantage Zone (ref. Strategic Bushfire Management Plan 2014) within the reserve. There is no information provided to indicate how the narrow buffer can provide protection against impacts resulting from management undertaken within the reserve for fire mitigation purposes (to protect the urban area) or from other urban edge effects (including weed invasion and impacts on resident bird and other animal populations).
The same issue pertains to the protection of the natural values within Molonglo River Reserve, where the FUA boundary has been extended towards the Molonglo River.
Plans of Management for Molonglo River Reserve and Kama Nature Reserve
Plans of Management for the Molonglo River Reserve and for Kama Nature Reserve are required according to the NES Plan, and were to be finalised three years after the NES Plan was signed. They were therefore due for finalisation in November 2014. No plans have been made public. It is therefore not possible to determine whether the proposed modifications to the development area will impact the natural values of the two reserves. In relation to the buffer to Kama Nature Reserve, it is assumed that the Plan of Management would indicate how management aimed at providing wildfire protection for the development area would achieve conservation/biodiversity outcomes, including measures to monitor and report on impacts.
Patches C, H and N
According to the NES Plan, patches C and H are to be adaptively managed to maintain and enhance their ecological condition. The exemption report repeats this aim but designates these areas as urban open space. This gives no surety of the retention of values in these patches of Box Gum Woodland into the future. As well, it implies that the patches will be managed by Transport Canberra and City Services Directorate rather than by Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (which has demonstrated experience in managing grassy ecosystems, such as in Canberra Nature Reserves). Furthermore, adaptive management involves a critical early step of developing operational plans for each site. In this case of potential TCCS tenure of the two patches, it is essential that operational plans be developed by experienced government staff and released before any development approval can be contemplated.
Patch N is also to be adaptively managed. It is unclear how patch N, originally planned to become an area of ecological rehabilitation, is to be managed in the current exemption request, and omission of any operational plan for it is totally unacceptable.
Loss of areas being revegetated in accordance with the NES Plan
The Exemption Report identifies that “there is approximately 17.15 hectares of land within the wider area which is currently undergoing a revegetation and ecological restoration program administered by Greening Australia. Of this, 3.07 hectares of revegetated land occurs within the FUA boundary, in the south-west, adjacent to the Pine Plantation” (p. 28). At best, the treatment of the 3.07 hectare portion is an expensive planning backflip; at worst it is a contravention of the NES Plan, even if the area eventually sits within urban open space.
2. Additional impacts to biodiversity within the urban footprint
The Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (PTWL) (Aprasia parapulchella) is a vulnerable species. The proposed urban area contains PTWL habitat that was not identified in the original Strategic Assessment. The proposal will reduce both connectivity of habitat for this species and its foraging opportunities. While Biosis (2016) observed no PTWL individuals during its 2015 survey, they did not undertake targeted surveys, without which its presence in the proposed urban area cannot be excluded. This has not been accounted for in the Exemption Report.
Given the above, the statement in the Exemption Report that “Impacts to these MNES were identified and approved through the NES Plan” is not correct, as the impacts are additional to those identified in the NES Plan, and therefore need to be assessed and taken account of.
Destruction of endangered grassy ecosystems
There is a small (0.05 ha) area of Natural Temperate Grassland within the proposed urban area, near the pipeline track (see Figure 3.7 in Biosis 2016). The Strategic Assessment used to develop the NES Plan makes no allowance for this, but Biosis (2016) recommends that it should be offset. This is not followed through in the Exemption Report, and it is not clear from Figure 2.2 (Umwelt 2017) whether the 0.05 ha area lies inside an area of urban open space or inside the urban development area. Given the critically endangered status of this community, FOG’s view is that all such patches should be conserved. If not, at the very least offsets should be offered.
There are previously undetected areas of Box-Gum Woodland within the proposed urban area. The same argument applies to these areas – they are not covered by the Strategic Assessment and are not covered under the NES Plan mitigation actions.
The Vegetation Classification and Condition Assessment report (Biosis 2016) identifies the potential removal of 17 hollow-bearing trees. The issue of maintaining adequate hollow-bearing trees for nesting and foraging habitat within Molonglo Valley was highlighted by a number of submissions provided during the Strategic Assessment. In February 2017, the Loss of Native Hollow Bearing Trees was nominated as a threatening process. The ACT’s Scientific Committee is currently considering this nomination.
In view of this, FOG disagrees with the statement in the Conclusion of the Exemption Report that “Impacts to threatened ecological communities have been considered, mitigated and offset in the NES Plan” (p. 31). We believe that the impact of this threatening process has not been included adequately in the NES Plan and should be given further consideration.
We believe this proposal should provide explicit guidelines as to how patches of trees and individual mature trees will be retained in the urban landscape. In particular, Biosis (2016) indicates that 80% of the hollow-bearing trees are in the far north-east corner of the urban area, lying within 150 m of the edge line (Figs 3.3 and 3.6 (Biosis 2016)). Note that we are assuming that the urban edge lines identified in Biosis (2016) and Umwelt (2017) are the same. Figure 2.2 in Umwelt (2017) shows that this zone is intended for medium density housing, so presumably all, or the majority, of these trees will be destroyed. FOG recommends that the edge shape be investigated to see whether hollow-bearing trees can be retained in an urban park. We are aware that there would need to be a detailed assessment of the total impact on all paddock trees before this should be done.
Within the area that has been mapped in previous studies as potential buffer to the east of Kama Reserve there is a patch of woodland, as well as scattered trees. In Ecological Australia (2013) part of this was identified as meeting criteria as Box-Gum Woodland; Biosis (2016) indicated that it didn’t at that time meet the criteria. Either way, it contains old-growth trees, and consideration is required of how they will be managed within the urban footprint.
Understatement in the Exemption Report
The Exemption Report concludes on page 31 that “This clearing of native vegetation may impact upon ecological values, diversity and species habitat and foraging opportunities. It may also reduce habitat connectivity and result in impacts to abiotic conditions such as soil and water”. The use of the word “may” is quite misleading. It is clear from the environmental information provided that the impact of this proposal will impact on ecological values, species habitat and foraging opportunities, and habitat connectivity, and that not all of these impacts were included in the original Molonglo Strategic Assessment.
Another major defect in the exemption report is the constant referral to everything being covered in the Strategic Assessment. However, no information is provided about the actual areas of grassy ecosystems and habitat that have already been destroyed in stages 1 and 2 of the Molonglo development. Consequently it is difficult to tell if the areas being impacted in stage 3 are covered completely by the Strategic Assessment, or whether in fact the total loss is more than stated in the Strategic Assessment – a concern since some areas of previously undetected grassland community and PTWL habitat have been found.
The Exemption Report states that “It is considered that the outcomes of the NES Plan appropriately account for losses to native vegetation and species”. FOG argues that:
(a) the Exemption Report does not demonstrate that the Development Project will meet all existing requirements concerning Matters of National Environmental Significance; and
(b) that the Development Project as identified in the Exemption Report is likely to result in destruction of additional Matters of National Environmental Significance as well as other matters covered or potentially protected under ACT legislation.
For these reasons, we do not support the proposed exemption of an EIS for Molonglo Stage 3.
30 August 2017
 A reference list is not included in FOG’s submission; all references quoted, with the exception of the NES Plan, are included in the exemption proposal.