A coalition of Hunter environment groups has appealed to federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek to save precious koala habitat by stopping the proposed Stone Ridge Quarry project.
The Australian Resources Development Group is seeking to extract up to 1.5 million tonnes of aggregate from the area per year over 30 years.
The project area covers 139 hectares within the Wallaroo State Forest, north of Raymond Terrace. It has a disturbance area of about 80 hectares.
The 16 Hunter-based groups fighting the plan, presently on public exhibition, argue that, if approved, the project would destroy native vegetation in an area which supports both an intact regional biodiversity corridor, as well as three overlapping climate corridors that government commissioned research has highlighted are essential to the survival of threatened species populations fleeing the effects of climate change.
Environmental groups in the Barrington to Hawkesbury Climate Corridors Alliance last year called for a moratorium on land-clearing within 22 of the Climate Corridors, in order to preserve key areas predicted to provide landscape connectivity and refuge essential to the persistence of threatened fauna species between now and 2070 set to be displaced and forced to seek new areas of suitable habitat due to climate change.
In a co-signed letter sent to Ms Plibersek, the groups argue that the quarry proposal would have unacceptable impacts on biodiversity protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
"This proposal is a slap in the face to local communities who have tirelessly contested inappropriate quarry developments that brazenly encroach into areas of habitat supporting threatened and endangered species, such as the Koala," Hunter Community Environment Centre coordinator Jo Lynch said.
Site surveys published in the Stone Ridge Quarry Environmental Impact Statement reveal that the Koala, Rusty Greenhood, Squirrel Glider and Brush-tailed Phascogale are present within the project disturbance area.
"The Stone Ridge quarry project has been wholeheartedly denounced by Port Stephens community members incredibly frustrated by yet another quarry proposal with serious ecological and social impacts that appear to have been downplayed and obscured," Econetwork Port Stephens Secretary Kathy Brown said.
Australian Resource Development Group director of planning and development Justin Meleo said minimising and avoiding biodiversity impacts, including on the koala, were of paramount importance when locating the quarry site and in determining the location of any project disturbance area.
"The project site is mapped as the lowest category 'marginal' habitat on the Koala Habitat Planning Map within the Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management prepared by Port Stephens Council," Dr Meleo said.
"Comprehensive biodiversity (flora and fauna) assessments undertaken on the site between 2017 and 2023 have concluded that while this 'marginal' habitat would be reduced, the project is not likely to result in an impact that would directly reduce a koala population.
"No koala breeding activity has been observed within the project disturbance area and the project is not likely to disrupt the breeding cycle of an important population of this species."
He said the project would not restrict the movement of the koala or any fauna species. "Larger areas of more suitable Koala habitat in the area are included within the Wallaroo National Park (2,780 ha), the Karuah National Park (3,534 ha), the Medowie State Conservation Area (2,851 ha), the Karuah State Conservation Area (74 ha), the Medowie Nature Reserve (238 ha) and the Karuah Nature Reserve (824 ha)," he said.
"The project site has been extensively logged numerous times in the last 100 years. This regrowth vegetation within the project disturbance area was also severely impacted by an intense fire in November 2016."
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