The Minister of Defence Christopher Pyne has declared a defence area on state conservation land at Williamtown to extend the base’s runway for the F-35 fighter jets. A report published on Australia’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in December said delays in acquiring the 85 hectares of land were a “significant issue” in the planned roll-out of the new planes.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Defence said lighting and navigational aids needed to be placed outside Williamtown RAAF in order to lengthen the runway so it is complies with the “mandatory” requirements of the new jets.
She said the works will impact 23 hectares of vegetation at each end of the runway, “the majority of which will be retained and pruned below safe height limits”.
Mr Pyne declared two parcels of land in the Tilligerry State Conservation Area as defence areas on November 6 for a period of five years, “to undertake required work for the introduction of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.”
Construction will begin in the area in early 2019.
A performance audit published in December by the auditor-general said the Department of Defence advised its minister in 2017 that acquisition of land in the Tilligerry State Conservation Area could not be performed by the “required deadline”.
The declaration of a defence area was proposed as an “interim solution”.
The department has confirmed it is still working to acquire the land in the state conservation area.
“Defence further advised that it is continuing to closely monitor the risks associated with not having the runway approach ready as planned,” the report stated.
“This work needs to be completed to improve the utility of the runway in certain conditions and enable the training of new pilots by October 2020.”
The report said National Parks and Wildlife and the Hunter Water Corporation, who both manage the conservation area on behalf of the state government, raised concerns in August 2018 regarding the department’s plans.
A spokesman for the Office of Environment and Heritage said the office had been “cooperating” with the department since 2012 regarding the issue and was interested in ensuring environmental impacts were avoided.
“And that any unavoidable impacts, including future acquisition of the land from the SCA, are appropriately compensated,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Hunter Water said the corporation was concerned about maintaining access to monitoring bores associated with the Tomago Sandbeds.
“While the infrastructure is not physically affected by the declaration area, Hunter Water needs to travel through this land to access the monitoring equipment and other Hunter Water infrastructure,” she said.
“We’re currently negotiating with Defence about maintaining our access.”
According to the Department of Defence an environmental impact assessment of the runway extension found it was “unlikely to have a significant impact on the environment”.
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