Last night, Minister for Environment approved (under the Coastal Management Act) what is called a ‘boat ramp’ but what is actually closer to a marina or at the very least an ‘ocean access facility’, in Mallacoota in far East Gippsland.
Last night, Minister for Environment approved (under the Coastal Management Act) what is called a ‘boat ramp’ but what is actually closer to a marina or at the very least an ‘ocean access facility’, in Mallacoota in far East Gippsland. The proposed project involves massive stone walls jutting out of the ocean, concreting the Mallacoota town beach and wrecking a much regarded local surf break. It is strenuously opposed by the majority of the local community (including many fishers) and the many thousands who holiday in Mallacoota every summer (I feel like I can say that because I sat through three weeks of community submissions at the public hearings in 2008).
Sound bad, right?
What if I also told you an independent Panel Inquiry in 2008 recommended specifically against this proposal, and instead suggested the proponent (the East Gippsland Shire Council) consider a small-scale upgrade to the existing boat ramp?
The project was subject to a comprehensive environmental impact assessment process (or an ‘environment effects statement’ process, an ‘EES’, in Victorian lingo). This is like the Big Daddy of development approvals in Victoria. EES processes are saved for large, high-impact infrastructure projects. They typically take many years, involve extensive consultation and many hundreds of thousands of dollars. The EES for the Bastion Point Boat ramp was no exception to this. The Save Bastion Point Campaign (and the EDO, who acted for them) invested thousands of both volunteer hours and dollars in participating in the EES process, the result of which was the independent Panel deciding that the project as proposed by the Council had ‘no demonstrated overall societal benefit’ and involved unacceptable safety risks.
But the Council has obstinately pushed on, continuing to ignore expert advice and community’s pleas. Yesterday, four years after the Panel’s decision, they finally succeeded in obtaining the last remaining approval in order for the massive structure to be built.
This has dealt a huge blow to the Mallacoota community, who have fought tooth and nail for a safe, smart, low-impact upgrade of the current boat ramp instead of the Council’s massive proposal.
However – this fight has lasted nearly thirty years and knowing this community I don’t for a minute think that it’s over now.
What we do know is that environmental law and in particular the EES process is completely failing communities and the Victorian environment. And that it’s a complete waste of time and money. What is the point of appointing an expert Panel to spend two years researching, talking to the community, hearing expert evidence and formulating recommendations to then completely ignore them?
All of Victoria should be worried about the Mallacoota Boat ramp outcome, because it demonstrates the ability of decision-makers to toss aside laws that protect the places and environment we love for their own politician imperatives.