Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has visited the koala habitat battle ground at Brandy Hill, a fortnight before she is to make the final decision on a controversial quarry expansion proposal.
Construction products company Hanson's plan to expand the quarry would cut into 52 hectares of prime koala habitat, prompting opposition from residents, environmental groups and stars, such as Olivia Newton-John.
During her visit to the area on Wednesday, Ms Ley also met with representatives of the Save Port Stephens Koalas group and three University of Newcastle researchers who had written a report detailing the potential impact of the quarry expansion on the koala population and habitat, and recommended the project not go ahead.
While the state's Independent Planning Commission had approved the project in July, Ms Ley has the final say, making a ruling under the 1999 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Her decision is due by October 13.
One of the university's koala experts and report authors, Ryan Witt, said he was pleased "to have our opportunity to express our concerns".
"We stressed there's a breeding population that needs to be considered here, and it's a significant habitat," said Dr Witt, from the university's School of Environmental and Life Sciences.
Victoria Jack, campaign manager for Save Port Stephens Koalas, said the group also pointed out to the minister the devastating impact of last summer's devastating bushfires on koala populations.
She said the group had also expressed concerns the biodiversity offsets proposed by the company to compensate for the habitat loss "would not mitigate the damage that would do to koalas".
"We take the minister at her word, and she has committed to make a decision based on the best evidence and best science," said Dr Jack. "If she does that, she'll make the right call and reject the expansion and protect the koalas."
The environment minister toured the Brandy Hill site before the meeting.
"Today was a good opportunity to look at the site, and to meet with as many of the parties as I could and to hear all views firsthand," Ms Ley said in a statement.
Ms Ley's impending decision was a focus of comments by her NSW counterpart Matt Kean at the official opening of the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary at One Mile on Friday.
While the state had fast-tracked and approved the quarry expansion, the NSW Environment Minister said "the loss and fragmentation of koala habitat is the number one threatening process for koalas, and we're seeing that right here in Port Stephens".
"I think we should be doing everything we can to protect koala populations and their habitat, and that means securing that habitat into the future," Mr Kean said.
"So my message to the Federal Environment Minister is, 'You should be looking very closely at this Brandy Hill decision, because a lot is turning on the decision you will make'."
Mr Kean said the state's decision went through a "rigorous assessment process", but "things have changed since the bushfires".
Dr Jack said Ms Ley assured at the meeting that her decision would take into account the impact of the bushfires.
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