The Hunter Community Environment Centre has condemned PWCS for the purchase of 242 ha of publicly owned land to act as an ‘offset’ for the
destruction of wetlands and mangrove forest on Ash Island and at Kooragang that are currently public owned and managed for conservation.
PWCS bought the land in Tomago from the state-owned Hunter Development Corporation to ‘compensate’ for the destruction that will result from its proposed Fourth Coal Terminal. This includes the loss of two of the most significant sites for migratory shorebirds in NSW, ‘Deep Pond’ and part of ‘Swan Pond’.
However, the offset site purchased by PWCS is inadequate and has already been committed as an offset site to a number of other corporations, including Northbank Enterprise Hub (owned by WesTrac) and the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group.
“It certainly does not inspire confidence in the rigor and integrity of the planning process when the same piece of land is used as an offset site multiple times by different corporations. How do we know that this will not happen again?
“The offset site at Tomago is also inadequate on environmental grounds. The Environmental Assessment of the T4 project admits that none of the migratory shorebirds that will be impacted by the development were sighted at the proposed offset site at Tomago. Further, the mangrove habitat on the offset site is not mature enough to provide suitable roosting habitat for migratory shorebirds.
“Ironically, the EA concedes that the use of the site at Tomago as an offset will likely negatively affect the only threatened species found on the offset site, the Eastern Grass Owl.
“PWCS should not be allowed to get away with such a ludicrous and inadequate offset scheme. Offsetting is a dubious practice at the best of times, but this is taking the dodgy business of offsetting a step too far.”
In 1990 the site at Tomago was offered as a Buffer Zone between the Tomago Aluminium Smelter and the Hunter Wetlands National Park.
The Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project restored this degraded site to a viable wetland.
Around 2005, Austeel expressed interest in building a steel mill in Newcastle, so the State Government bought up the land for the Austeel project. However, the Austeel project failed.
The land was then subdivided into Lot 1001 and Lot 1002. Northbank Enterprise Hub, owned by WesTrac, bought Lot 1001 and the state-owned Hunter Development Corporation bought Lot 1002. It was intended that Lot 1002 would act as an offset for Lot 1001 (this is stated on page 81 of the Environmental Assessment of Northbank Enterprise Hub Pty Ltd, December 2011).
Despite this, the National Parks and Wildlife Service promised the Hunter Bird Observers Club that a 400m X 400m area of Lot 1002, known as the ‘Rice Paddies’ would be incorporated into the Hunter Wetlands National Park and declared as an offset for ‘Big Pond’ – a significant site for migratory shorebirds that was filled in and destroyed by the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group during the construction of the Third Coal Terminal.
$50,000 was spent on installing tidal gates and repairing the levee to manage the ‘Rice Paddies’ for migratory shorebirds displaced by the destruction of ‘Big Pond’.
The ‘Rice Paddies’, along with the rest of Lot 1002 have now been purchased by PWCS, to compensate for the destruction of ‘Deep Pond’ and part of ‘Swan Pond’ on Ash Island for the construction of the PWCS Fourth Coal Terminal. This is despite the fact they are already supposed to be offset areas for Northbank Enterprises Hub and the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group.