Formed in early 2002, the Evergreen Eco Group purchased the Evergreen rural property adjacent to Venus Bay in June 2003. Included on the property was a flood plain between the first and second estates at Venus Bay.
In our opinion it would appear company looked at the map of the Victorian coastline, and noting a stretch of undeveloped rural land adjacent to Anderson Inlet, saw an opportunity to invest in developing a large housing estate.
We believe they acted in haste in purchasing the Evergreen property without fully investigating or understanding the local environment and the limitations of the terrain. We can only assume they had no knowledge of the reasons why the property had remained undeveloped or what attracted people to Venus Bay.
Our understanding is that at the time of purchase they were unaware that a large section of the farm met the criteria of wetlands and included peaty black soil. Had they known of the existence of acid sulfate soil we do not believe they would have proposed digging up the land to form artificial lakes.
The company presented their proposal to the community, who, horrified at the prospect of an urban subdivision being built on the wetlands, voiced their concerns and immediately banded together to stop it proceeding.
Below is a summary of the proposals presented to date.
|Proposal 1 - July 2003|
At a hastily called meeting arranged by the South Gippsland Shire Council on a cold wet night in July 2003 the development company presented their proposal to over 200 people in the Venus Bay Community Centre.
The developers announced their intention to subdivide the 348 hectares (880 acres) of land into over 2000 house blocks. The development was to include three artificial lakes, tennis courts, a regional art gallery, sealed roads, water piped in from Inverloch along with reticulated sewerage piped out to Inverloch.
Horrified at the prospect of an urban subdivision being built on the Venus Bay wetlands a large section of the community banded together and aired their concerns at a subsequent meeting called just two weeks later and attended by over 500 concerned people.
|Proposal 2 - August 2004|
Following intense public reaction to the first proposal in the form of public meetings, 3000 postcards of complaint along with 3500 signatures being delivered to Premier Steve Bracks, along with local, state and national media interest, the developer returned in August 2004 with a new proposal.
The second proposal, though short on detail, involved removing levee banks to create a continuous tidal canal punctuated with islands on which 'mini villages' of 200 houses would be perched.
The community could not understand why the developer would present such a proposal when the then Planning Minister, Mary Delahunty, had recently rejected another canal type development at Mahers Landing on the other side of Anderson Inlet.
The community remained unimpressed.
|Proposal 3 - September 2005|
The developer arranged testing of the soil on Evergreen and finally agreed, at a private meeting attended by three South Gippsland Shire Councillors along with the President of the Tarwin Lower - Venus Bay Association, Colin Suggett, that 80% of the property contained acid sulfate soil. This fact has long been known by the community as evidenced by the Department of Natural Resources & Environment (now Department of Primary Industries) map from March 2003. The National Policy on Acid Sulfate Soils states the only sure way to prevent leaching poisonous acid into the surrounding waters is to leave the soil undisturbed.
The Urban Design Framework for Venus Bay and surrounding areas, a consultants report commissioned by the Shire of South Gippsland, Gippsland Coastal Board and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, is currently being prepared and is due for release in January 2006. Although as yet unaware of the contents of the report, it would fair to assume that, bearing in mind the obvious environmental sensitivity of the area, the report would recommend the low lying parts of Evergreen be deemed unsuitable for urban development.
Taking into account the above realizations the developers have put forward yet another proposal, this time to build an unspecified number of houses. Aside from being advised the proposal would involve flattening out the sand dunes so as to maximize the number of houses, and piping in water from Inverloch, little else is known about this most recent proposal.
These are the same sand dunes a previous owner of Evergreen attempted to sub-divide into 32 house blocks in 1991, only to have the proposal rejected by the then Minister for Planning, Andrew McCutcheon, as being inappropriate for such an environmentally sensitive area.
We await further detail.
Despite displaying their original proposal over two years ago the development company is still yet to formally submit a plan to the South Gippsland Shire Council.
Why is this so?
|Is it because they realize the proposal is totally inappropriate and would be rejected at all levels of government?|
|Maybe they feel if they delay long enough the community will lose interest in opposing the project. (The opposite is happening as community members, environmental groups and politicians are eagerly offering their services to our campaign.)|
|It could be they are considering the possibility of leaving the land as rich agricultural grazing land.|
|Maybe they are waiting for the community along with Trust for Nature to purchase the land.|
|Maybe they are evaluating the taxation benefits that would be gained in the form of Green Points by donating the land to the community.|
The Venus Bay intertidal zone is one of only three sites in Victoria which have been identified as having AASS (Actual Acid Sulfate Soils) at a depth of from 45cm to 300cm. (Department of Primary Industries - CLPR Research Report No. 12 - March 2003). Tooradin and the Kingsway area in South Melbourne are the other locations in Victoria with AASS. Some of the problems that have occurred with the City Link Burnley tunnel are as a result of disturbing the AASS.
Potential Acid Sulfate Soils (PASS), generally laid down 10,000 years ago during a period of high sea level, lie dormant in estuarine mudflats and coastal regions until disturbed and exposed to air. Once exposed, these soils produce large volumes of sulfuric acid which can cause long term detriment to surrounding vegetation, water supply, animal habitats and aquatic organisms, not to mention corrosion of steel and concrete infrastructure.
This Coastal Acid Sulfate Soil Hazard map shows the estimated extent of AASS is the Venus Bay area with the red dot noting high acid sulfate soil on Evergreen.
It is our concern that the massive lake excavation and earthworks that would be required for the urban subdivision would unleash an environmental disaster impacting on the Venus Bay watertable, the inlet, and surrounding flora and fauna.
The entire 300 hectare Evergreen site would need to be tested for the existence of acid sulfate soils before approval could be given to to excavate or disturb the site. Any existence of AASS should preclude development of the site.
Wildlife abounds on Evergreen including kangaroos, black wallabies, wombats, echidnas and a variety of migratory birds.
Threatened species of great egret and royal spoonbills roost here. Red necked stints, the growling grass frog, and other types of frogs all call Evergreen home.
Royal spoonbills on Evergreen (click on image to view)
Sacred ibis on Evergreen (click on image to view)
Great egret on Anderson Inlet (click on image to view)
Echidna at Anderson Inlet (click on image to view)
Evergreen is home to a vast array of flora, some of which are endangered. Mangroves, wallaby grass, kangaroo grass, beaded glasswort and everlasting daisy are all featured.
Native grasses on the shoreline of Anderson Inlet (click on images to view)
The land comprising Evergreen currently has an environment overlay (ESO3) as well as a RUZ overlay (rural zone).
One of the few wise decisions made at the time of the initial subdivision of Venus Bay in the early 1960's was the retention of buffer zones of vegetated crown land between the three estates which serve to limit the township 'footprint' and allow quiet, undisturbed areas for native fauna. The buffer zones which adjoin the sea are now designated as part of the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park. The company's proposal would effectively join the 1st and 2nd estates, creating one compound ribbon development over 5km in length and impacting on the adjacent coastal park on the beach side of Lees Road.
One of the unique advantages of the geographic configuration of Venus Bay and the Point Smythe peninsula is that it is a natural animal sanctuary. Isolated by surrounding waters and protected from south westerly weather by large dunes and thick coastal vegetation, it is a haven for kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, reptiles and a plethora of bird species. The low level, non urban scale of development and the passion residents and visitors have for the native fauna compliments this sanctuary aspect.
Evidence elsewhere indicates that with a doubling of the residential and visitor population and the resultant increased traffic and recreational activity in Venus Bay, we would expect to see a doubling of road kill and a greater adverse impact on the sanctuary effect of the area.
The likely increase in power boat use and fishing on the inlet would exacerbate boat access and parking problems, impact on water quality due to fuel and oil contamination, impact on the amenity of the inlet due to noise and 'boat traffic' density and stretch an already fragile fish stock resource.
Prior to council amalgamations this area was covered by the Worrayl Shire. In their flood maps of 1990 Evergreen is clearly shown as being subject to flood inundation. The section related to the proposed urban subdivision is declared ecologically significant.
The most current information available from the West Gippsland Catchment Authority indicate Evergreen is subject to Lower Hazard Flooding.
The legend on the State Government's topographic map of the area, 'Anderson Inlet 8020-1-3 and Lake Polteney 8020-2-4 Zone 55 Vic Map, indicates Evergreen as being 'Land subject to inundation'. Refer
Most local residents can attest to water lying on Evergreen on a regular basis.
Jetty & jetty car park underwater in July 2004 (click on images to view)
Interestingly the current maps of the South Gippsland Shire no longer indicates Evergreen as being subject to flooding/inundation. Of even greater interest is that the area designated as subject to flooding and inundation stops in an almost straight line near the Evergreen border.
|Is Evergreen subject to flooding/inundation?|
|Shire of Worrayl||Yes|
|West Gippsland Catchment Authority||Yes|
|Shire of South Gippsland||No|
Cows sinking in the bog on Evergreeen (click on images to view)
In an article in the Great Southern Star on 3rd June 2004 titled 'Big rain would flood Tarwin authority warns' Mr. Gibson of the West Gippsland Water Authority stated that: "people don't build on flood plains as it is well known by [local] landowners that the river floods from time to time."
It is worth noting the above photographs were taken in the middle of our current seven year drought.
Peat at Venus Bay is believed to be about 5 to 6 metres deep.
Map highlighting peat on Evergreen (click on image to view)
With exposure to oxygen peat may spontaneously combust as evidenced by the month long fire on Evergreen which continued to burn in early 2002 until rain came. Land subsidence was in the area of 30cms. Of even greater concern is the seven year fire, well known to local farmers, following which the ground sank one metre.
Smoke from the smouldering Evergreen peat fire (click on images to view)
Due to salinity and the poor quality of the soil the developers and land owners will experience difficulty in propagating gardens and vegetation necessitating the overuse of fertilisers and chemicals which would subsequently find their way into the watertable and inlet.
The salinity and poor quality of the soil would make any attempt to propagate gardens extremely difficult without the overuse of fertilisers and chemicals, which in turn would find their way into the watertable and inlet.
The Evergreen site is protected from inundation from the waters of Anderson Inlet by a system of ageing man made level banks and flood gates. Around 80% of the area is at or below sea level and only centimetres above the water table. During a normal non drought wet season vast acreages of the property are underwater for many months of the year.
The Victorian Coastal Council in their publication 'Victorian Coastal Strategy 2002' devote a full page to the future problems of climate change bringing about sea level rises and more extreme weather events. It is officially accepted that rises of over 30 centimetres in the next 50 years and 60 centimetres in the next 100 years are likely, having severe impact on low lying coastal regions.
A study undertaken by Sarah Sumner and Clare Harley - B.P.D. (Honours) in 1990 identified the Evergreen site as likely to be subject to major inundation incidents by the year 2030. They recommended that such areas around Anderson Inlet be designated 'Floodplain Zones' and that future development be restricted to non-intensive agricultural pursuits or recreational reserves. (Sumner, S & Harley, C. 1990. "The Greenhouse Effect: Implications of sea level rise for land use suitability of low lying areas surrounding Anderson's Inlet". Melbourne University : Carlton)
The initial development outline proposes three 'recreational lakes' totalling approximately 190 acres in area. Sandy beaches would be provided with the lakes intended for 'fishing, swimming, sailing and windsurfing. The south side of this system would 'finger' into and around the proposed housing allotments.
This would be achieved by dredging into the Venus Bay watertable with the peat/mud excavated we understand being used for allotment landfill.
It is a concern the evaporation rates over such a vast surface area under hot summer winds at the time of most residential demand could lower the water table to such an extent that many bores in the 1st and 2nd estate would run dry.
'Up to 80,000 litres can evaporate from a single hectare of water of a day.' (Guy Nolch - Australasian Science 2003)
A previous owner of Evergreen applied in 1991 to subdivide the higher dune areas of the property into 34 house blocks. While the application was approved by the then Worrayl Shire Council, their decision was overruled by the planning minister of the day, Mr Andrew McCutcheon. The shire appealed the decision but once again the Minister refused the amendment (L16).
The Tarwin Lower Venus Bay Association, through a Freedom of Information request to the South Gippsland Shire, has copies of the Minister's letters (Ref: 115384C dated 3rd January 1991 and 2nd April 1991 respectively).
Among the Minister's reasons for not allowing the amendment (L16):
Non compliance with 'A Coastal Policy for Victoria (1988). Chapter 2 of the policy clearly states that:
'No new subdivisions will be permitted in sensitive or dynamic areas such as dunes. Construction in fragile or unstable areas will be generally prohibited. Settlements will little of no existing infrastructure will be kept at their present development and generally confined to existing boundaries.'
Further the minister stated:
'From a strategic planning viewpoint, it is preferable to maintain the distinct edge that Lees Road provides between urban and rural uses in Venus Bay. A large scale subdivision such as the one proposed under Amendment L16 will set an undesirable precedent for urban encroachment into an environmentally sensitive area'.
'In view of these considerations, I am not prepared to reverse my decision to refuse approval of the Amendment'.
© Venus Bay Wetlands Project