Save Emigrant Creek

Pacific Highway upgrade threatens Emigrant Creek water catchment

Images are from report (PDF, 5.7M) of Oct 2005. The above image, figure E5, from page xii, shows the 4 alternate routes. The precise routes under consideration are being constantly changed. The preferred route currently under consideration is a rough combination of options A and B. Figure 8.4 from page 118, below, shows the hydrological features including the Emigrant Creek catchment shaded with black diagonal stripes.

The Emigrant Creek water catchment overlooking Lennox Heads in Ballina Shire near the far north coast of New South Wales is the easternmost water catchment in Australia. Having the highest and most reliable rainfall yield in that region of Australia, it supplies 30,000 inhabitants of Ballina and Lennox Heads.

The catchment is close to the two-lane Pacific Highway which is to be upgraded to a six-lane to accommodate the growing volumes of traffic. Run-off from the existing highway and the potential for chemical spills from accidents are already considered detrimental to the quality of the water. However, the upgrade, if it were to be built along the same route, would exacerbate that threat unacceptably according to a number local residents. This had also been the stance of the professional management of , the body which administers Emigrant Creek and a number of other catchments in the are on behalf of Ballina Shire Council and three other local councils in the area.

On 25 November the majority of Ballina Shire Councillors, against the wishes of the residents and against the position of Rous Water voted to recommend to the RTA that the route of the upgraded highway go through the catchment area. In spite of this setback, the residents of the catchment have not given up the fight. They are preparing a further submission to the RTA which would show the unacceptable risk that the upgrade would pose to the catchment.

The fight to save Emigrant Creek has resulted in a heated argument on the pages of the local newspapers including on the .

Letters to Northern Rivers Echo

, Ian Cooke, 2 Nov 06

, Ian Cooke, 15 Feb 07

, Alan Rich, 22 Feb 07.

, Fay Bogg, Secretary, Waterdrinkers & Watercatchers of Ballina Shire Inc., 8 Mar 07

, Mike Burless, 8 Mar 07

, Ian Cooke, 17 May 07

Letters to Northern Rivers Echo concerning the Emigrant Creek catchment

For further information, see , 2 Nov 2006 Crikey! The RTA people must be magicians. They say they can improve the quality of Ballina’s drinking water by constructing a motorway through the Emigrant Creek water catchment (environment protected). This is what they will do on only two of the 63 properties impacted. (A selection of magic tricks).
  • Destroy over 1000 mostly mature rainforest trees that form part of the natural water catchment infrastructure.
  • Disturb a “capped” dip site containing arsenic and DDT.
  • Destroy a specially constructed island for wildlife as well as a bird garden.
  • Traverse a five-acre lake teeming with life that feeds into the storagedam and will carry 20,000 plus pollution generating vehicles per day.
For some of the stakeholders affected by the preferred route decision, a brief message. To the losers:
  • 400 white egrets that will have to find new sleeping quarters and all the other birds, over 100 species. “I’ll miss you, thanks for coming.”
  • Platypus and other numerous water critters... “Watch out for toxic road dust and diesel emissions.”
To the winners:
  • Cr Alan Rich who voted for the water catchment route and who represents impacted ratepayers... “We will remember”! • Members of the CEPS lobby group... How do you spell DeCEPSion?
  • Greens MLC Ian Cohen and mayor Silver who helped CEPS hoodwink 18,000 people into demanding the government route the motorway through the water catchment so they could protect their “spoils”... Enjoy!
  • Ballina Shire Council who persuaded the RTA to give priority to future ratepayers in a new village, at the expense of current ratepayers who live in the water catchment... Blatant discrimination.
More losers:
  • The 18,000 mostly Ballina residents who were hoodwinked into acting against their own best interests... You acted in good faith and were used, no hard feelings!
The big losers: The 98 families who either lose their homes, lose their livelihood or both, or are entombed in their homes because the motorway will run within 100 metres... You were dudded. Hardly anyone lives on the alternative route down on the coastal plain. A special message to the RTA, who will break the rules of the environment protected catchment and will also treat the heartland of the former Big Scrub land with contempt. This land is an extension of the World Heritage-listed Mt Warning National Park. May your magic wand be in good working order. And a question for Mr Cohen: What colour is green? Ian Cooke Newrybar , 15 Feb 07 (Note: This letter from Ballina Shire Councillor Alan Rich is not directly related to the Emigrant Creek catchment issue, but it is included here as an example of what appears to Ian Cooke to be a perplexing inconsistency in Councillor Rich's attitude to the environment. - JS) The ongoing clearing of trees, the global melting of ice caps, the extinction of species and Luis Feliu’s front page Echo story last week all have something in common. That common thread is the need to protect our environment. You reported in the story that “Cr Alan Rich said the clearing had been the ‘worst form of environmental desecration that’s possibly occurred’ in the shire which could spell the death of a rare species of native tree as a result”. While you correctly quoted me, a key point needs to be made. It wasn’t just the “death of a…tree” that worried me. If this last tree dies it will mean the extinction of the whole Fontainea oraria species in the wild. That could still happen over the next 50 years or so as a result of his land clearing. To think that one person could be found responsible for the extinction of an entire species sickens me. No amount of fines or ‘rehabilitation’ seedlings can replace a natural forest eco-system, be assured. Thank you for prominently reporting the story. In my view this vandal got off way too cheap. If ever a jail term was deserved, this was it. Alan Rich Lennox Head , 15 Feb 07 Cr Alan Rich may be right (Echo, February 8) when he says that land clearing in Amber Drive, Lennox Head had been the worst form of environmental desecration that’s possibly occurred in Ballina Shire. However that act of desecration will be nothing compared to what is about to happen in the Ballina Shire’s protected environment water catchment in the Knockrow/Newrybar area. And this act of desecration has the full support of Cr Rich. That’s right, Cr Rich voted at Ballina Shire Council for the RTA to route the proposed six-lane motorway through Ballina’s water supply knowing full well the potential environmental desecration of thousands of trees and also the pollution risk to Ballina’s water supply. In addition, a land-holder’s plan he was also fully aware of to restore the natural infrastructure of the water catchment by planting an additional 250,000 trees is now in tatters because the motorway route has made this rescue project unviable. Discussion had taken place with the Australian Forest Corp to create a carbon pool, accredited under the NSW government Gas Abatement Scheme for the catchment. That opportunity is now lost. And why would Cr Rich and other councillors, apart from Cr Cadwallader, Felsch and Howes, want to do this? It is simply that they assessed that a $500 million plus ‘Kath and Kim’-styled village of 7000 people west of Lennox Head (yet to be built) should be spared any impact from the motorway, but at the expense of the protected environment of the water catchment and the loss of 250,000 trees that will now not be planted. In the same edition of The Echo, Cr Howes says “development is all about ego, money and money-making and more money.” She is so right. Ian Cooke Newrybar , 22 Feb 07 Everything Ian Cooke writes seems to be influenced by his inability to accept reality. He lives in Newrybar right on the Pacific Highway and the new NSW Government motorway is going right past his front yard. He’s hurting. In his last letter about the highway he tediously repeats the same story that he’s been peddling for years now as fact. They’re his opinions only and they’re wrong. General managers, council leaders and others have responded in public and in private, over and over again, to his letters in the past. We have tried to provide accurate information to the readers he publicly continues to confuse. His facts are wrong. His assumptions are wrong. His conclusions are wrong. Newspapers have refused to run his defamatory letters and ads. He’s desperately hurting. For him to pretend that my small part in an advisory letter to the RTA was influenced by a proposed village to accommodate “7000 people west of Lennox Head” is all in his mind. If what Cooke says in his letter was true, which it’s not, Cr Margaret Howes would have illegally breached NSW pecuniary interest laws by her vote, which he refers to, because the proposed development is on her property. Facts are she didn’t participate. He’s been repeating these sorts of misrepresentations for years and it’s overdue for the nonsense to stop. He’s hurting others. Nasty, if not defamatory, statements based on his distortions have had their day. The state government announced the highway route in September, 2006. I feel sorry for him but it’s time to move on. If nothing else, his worn-out and predictable lines have become quite boring. Alan Rich Lennox Head , 8 Mar 2007 In response to Mr Rich’s letter (Echo, February 22), in our private lives we are concerned about water and global warming are we not? Local and global alike. Mr Rich represents not only Emigrant Creek catchment residents in Ballina Council but is a representative for the Shire on the Rous Water board. He’s a known protector of botanical species and is, I understand, one of the eminent persons of Big Scrub Landcare. A man well placed and well qualified to be a protector of our environmental concerns. In theory. Yet over the past two years our environmental guardian remained steadfastly aloof during the RTA’s motorway proposals where routes were to make a direct assault on that pivotal natural resource of the shire – drinking water. In neither of his representative roles has he been proactive to safeguard these widely held private concerns. There has been no outcry, no support – only disinterest. The T2E motorway can only adversely impact the drinking water of this catchment and the red soils of the Big Scrub therein. The catchment’s future… more bitumen roads, more erosion, less trees… is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. People who live in the catchment and those served by it (i.e. water drinkers in Ballina Shire) must regret that a man so well placed and well qualified to be protector of our environmental concerns, was so, only in theory. Fay Bogg Secretary, Waterdrinkers & Watercatchers of Ballina Shire Inc.   , 8 Mar 2007 It is with some irritation that I find myself having to once again censure the prosaic media misadventures of Cr Alan Rich (Echo, February 22). Adjectives like nasty, boring and tedious are tenders that no-one who knows Ian Cooke well would ever attach to his character. For the public record and as a friend and admirer of Ian Cooke, I would like to offer my own observations. Given his terribly adverse circumstances (a proposed motorway through his front yard and clean through the catchment of Emigrant Creek), Ian Cooke remains an affable, genuine, loyal and generous spirited individual. He has one great detraction however – he has the tenacity of a terrier and depending on one’s position, this is either an admirable virtue or a source of fear and loathing. Ian Cooke wants public answers to simple public questions and so far he hasn’t got them. I should not have to remind Alan Rich that he is an elected public servant and Ian Cooke is a constituent and is therefore perfectly entitled to ask those who are supposed to represent the community’s best interests to explain their actions. The ‘servant’ component is important, councillor. That’s precisely what you are. Ballina Shire Council did absolutely nothing to support the residents of the plateau in their fight against the motorway in spite of the fact that it was clearly by far the most socially disruptive and the most environmentally destructive option. Why? Since the announcement of the preferred route, water quality and water management have become absolute priority issues with the media, the public and the government taking a keen interest. Councillor Silver and Councillor Rich are the chair and vice chair respectively of Rous Water, yet they chose not to heed advice from senior Rous Water management that recommended absolutely no motorway anywhere in this vital catchment. Why? There is a radically increasing likelihood Crs Rich and Silver will eventually be issued with an official ‘please explain’. Their answers should make for entertaining reading. Keep digging, Ian. Mike Burless Newrybar   , 17 May 2007 Ballina shire councillor and deputy chair of Rous Water, Alan Rich, is critical of the Queensland Government's lack of planning for population growth and water needs given the call to pipe water from the Northern Rivers (The Echo, May 3). Perhaps Cr Rich should have reflected on some home truths before casting aspersions on other politicians. When Ballina shire's water supply was not keeping up with demand in the mid 1980s, one option considered was to build a new dam on Upper Emigrant Creek to supplement the existing dam on the same creek which was then the main source of supply for Ballina shire. In the event, Ballina shire was connected by pipework into the Rocky Creek dam system which was built primarily to supply Lismore and Byron shire residents. With Rocky Creek catchment not receiving the normal summer/autumn rainfall the region is now facing early water restrictions which could reach level 5 by Christmas if the usual dry winter and spring prevails. In the last 12 months or so Ballina Shire Council has: accepted Planning Minister Frank Sartor's announcement to make Ballina an economic growth centre together with his call for another 60,000 residents to come to the North Coast; and voted for the RTA to route the proposed six-lane Pacific Highway motorway through the Emigrant Creek water catchment which is zoned a protected environment. This option was preferred rather than adjust a draft plan for a village of 7000 people west of Lennox Head. The preferred route has been announced as the one which traverses the entire length of the catchment and will run adjacent to Emigrant Creek for the full journey. When the motorway is built, a new dam in upper Emigrant Creek is probably not viable and pumping from the Wilsons River is only a short term solution. I ask Cr Rich to consider the following questions: What if climate change causes a more permanent rain shadow on the further inland Rocky Creek catchment similar to that which has occurred elsewhere, particularly in Sydney and Brisbane? Should Lismore and Byron shire residents' scarce water supply be used to satisfy Ballina Council's population growth plans given that the planned capacity of Rocky Creek Dam did not include Ballina shire residents? Was it provident for Ballina Shire Council to tell the RTA to, in effect, jeopardise the ability to increase storage capacity in the Emigrant Creek catchment which is the most easterly in Australia? It is not too late for Roads Minister Roozendaal to review the preferred route decision, but will Ballina Council initiate such action? Ian Cooke Newrybar