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Wallaroo Residents Concerns Over Gully Fill and Tree Removal

14 May 2023

Yass Valley Council is being asked permission, via amendment to a previously approved Development Application (DA – DA200091), to remove 24 native trees in a NSW Terrestrial Biodiversity zoned area to allow for 42,000m3 of ACT building waste soil to fill gullies for 'erosion control works'.

The historical erosion gullies, in the Hills of Hall wine region, are first and second order streams at the headwater of a watercourse that runs 4km into the Murrumbidgee River. The block (Lot 6 DP1261120) was created in 2018 with the subdivision (under DA170044) of a larger holding for 'family succession planning' and remains part of extensive landholdings of the applicant in the area. The applicant, who owns multiple NSW and ACT-based companies, including earthmoving and asphalt companies, has been using the land for various faming and non-farming activities since its acquisition about ten years ago.

The previous Yass Shire Council, under then Mayor Rowena Abbey, gave approval, via Deferred Consent, at its final meeting, two days ahead of the 2021 NSW Local Government election. Part of the application for the approval was that no trees would be harmed during the filling operation. For that approval, the applicant had presented four options for the erosion control works: do nothing; fence off; earthworks; and earthwork plus filling. The applicant's reports noted that its option 3 – earthworks and option 4 – earthwork plus filling would deliver exactly the same erosion control outcome, but the filling would see the cost of works being defrayed by fees received from ACT construction contractors providing the fill material from ACT construction sites.

The December 2021 Yass Valley Council meeting noted that the Yass Valley ratepayers may expect a road repair bill of the order of $457,000, partially off-set by a Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA) believed to be about $100,000. Because the ACT charges for the disposal of this fill material from ACT building developments, or depending on its classification even does not accept it within the ACT, the applicant seeking approval for the tree removal and gully fill may receive very significant fees from ACT contractors using the site to dispose of material from ACT construction.

The modification to the Planning Approval to see the removal of the 24 trees will allow the filling operation to proceed.

Of the 24 trees to be removed, 4 are listed has having 'High' Retention Value and 15 'Medium' Retention Value (A tree that 'medium' is of reasonable form, structure and health; and presents a medium-to-low hazard/safety risk). Trunk circumferences are up to 5.4 metres, and 23 of them are identified as having 'Expected Longevity' of "greater than 25 years" but for the proposed clearing. There are a further 4 trees (two with High Retention Value and two with Medium Retention value) who will be 'significantly adversely affected'.

The amendment will also the doubling of allowed daily truck numbers in Wallaroo from 16 movements per day to 32 movements.

A number of Wallaroo residents have expressed the following concerns:
1. Fair and open process. This was a contentious DA in 2021 and attracted significant objections from the community; yet, it was approved, with a major claimed justification being that no trees would be affected. Now, it is proposed that significant native trees and the attendant biodiversity be destroyed in order to deliver this windfall project to the applicant.
2. Road Safety and Road Noise. The project will already be adding a significant road repair bill to Yass Shire ratepayers. These roads are not holding up to the significant truck numbers already accessing these rural roads. The doubling of the previously approved truck numbers, without regard to the previously partitioned and evidenced road noise and safety impacts, will lead to increase stress and loss amenity for our Wallaroo residents.
3. Environmental Impacts. Council previously ignored the greenhouse gas emissions from the project's intended 5,600 (minimum) heavy truck and trailer movements, and approximately 300 days of earthmoving operation, but it did not accept the loss of trees at the site. The proposed amendment would see the destruction of these trees and their associated biodiversity, and is a direct assault on the environment and is in no way justifiable for a project of no community benefit.

Further information can be obtained from Yass Valley Council. Residents wishing to comment on the proposal may write to Yass Valley Concuil. The dealine for submissions to YVC is 5PM Tuesday 23 May 2023.

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