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Geelong Environment Council

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Cheetham Article

 

13 May 2015

 

The southern shoreline of Corio Bay between Point Henry in the east and Limeburners Point in the west was originally a shallow area of sea shore and salt marsh. All this area is Crown Land currently leased to Ridley Corporation for salt production. This has become non-viable and is now ceased.

In the mid 1800’s the salt industry was developed creating an extensive system of shallow lagoons of varying salinity divided by banks with low scrub of Shrubby and Beaded Glasswort.  The line of saltworks lies so close to Corio Bay that the shoreline itself has been formalised into lagoons where there were once mud flats.

Offshore, large areas of mud are exposed at low tide and sediment has built up in one location with a low sandy island being formed.  On the islet Fairy Terns nested, silver gulls and other species including terns, chestnut teal and cormarants have roosted there.

Currently the lagoons from the Animal Health Laboratory in the west to Point Henry in the east have water in them in varying depths, (A requirement in Ridley’s lease of the Crown Land). Ridley has another series of salt pans on the western shore of Point Henry.  These are on Ridley owned land.  They have not been kept watered as there is no leasehold requirement to do so.

GFN members have surveyed this area annually for over 30 years, recorded their information and analysed the data of the avifauna and ecology of the site There is an average of over 5000 birds each year, including  68 bird species, 22 international treaty protected shore birds and three.threatened species.

Ridley Corporation and a partner have a proposal to turn the salt fields into a marina and housing development, including a canal housing estate.  Canal estates were previously not allowed under the Victorian Coastal Strategy but unfortunately this was changed by the previous government.

The proposal will require Ridley to obtain possession of the Crown Land component of the salt fields.  This comprises 289 ha of crown land on the southern shores of Corio Bay,  and will also require some further coastal strip of crown land. The developers had been working with the previous State Government to obtain this land under a process titled an “Unsolicited Proposal” whereby Corio Bay crown land would be swapped for some much less environmentally valuable land he owns at Avalon.

This process had proceeded to stage 3 (of 5) in which they were in exclusive negotiation to develop the proposal with the liberal government.

Any decision to exchange or otherwise divest the people of Victoria of this piece of extraordinary important environmental coastal crown land will cause major dissatisfaction and anger. It can never be replaced.

Moolap salt fields and Ramsar sites on Corio Bay and associated wetlands are home to 20,000 birds each summer, provide a vital habitat for species which have migrated here from as far as Siberia and the Arctic.  Imagine a suggestion where 289 ha of coastal land at Torquay or Queenscliff is proposed for a private development!

The proposed development, if the partnership is successful in obtaining the crown land, will include a $4 billion dollar marina, including 1,200 berths, 400 homes, a golf course, and will generate 17,500 jobs.  The proposal was signed off by the former liberal state government prior to going into caretaker mode.  (Does this look something like the Point Nepean scandalous development proposal).

Amongst the planning controls in the Greater Geelong Planning Scheme will be the various overlays, including a ‘Public Conservation and Resource Zone,  a Special Use Zone, a Heritage overlay and an Environmental Significance Overlay, all of which are significant on this site

Environmental concerns with the project are many, these include coastal predicted sea level rise with the Victorian Coastal Strategy recommending a buffer zone of 0.8m which is required to be considered in all coastal development  This zone includes most of the land.  . There is a massive dredging program required to produce the fill needed for the new development.  Limeburners Bay, which is where the fill will be dredged from has very significant lead levels on the seabed, (a shooting range fired off Limeburners Point into the bay) together with many other heavy metals which are a problem in Corio Bay caused by earlier industrial development. Dredging will mobilize and activate these together with the Acid Sulphate soils

The entire site is within the acid sulphate defined area. These soils are recommended to not be disturbed.

The Moolap Salt pans are an integral part of the Ramsar wetlands on the Bellarine but not listed in the treaty.  These are mentioned in the Ramsar management plan and recognized as having Ramsar values. The Moolap site is important within the remarkable wetland ecosystem that exists both here and on the western shores of Port Phillip Bay.

Geelong Environment Council and Queenscliffe Environment Forum have presented a proposal to Minister Neville for a VEAC investigation into the 19 wetlands on the peninsula, including the Cheetham Crown Land, to create a Victorian Nature Reserve of these dispersed water bodies.  The proposal does not include Swan Bay which is protected in the Marine National Park.

The conservation reserve would ensure that the Bellarine wetlands are protected and conserved at this time of high population growth and climate uncertainty. Consistent management, taking into account the many environmental values in each waterbody, would ensure that the area will continue to supply habitat to the thousands of migratory waders which make their remarkable journeys each summer

Threats are already surfacing to the Ramsar sites with an application for a residential hotel, sale and consumption of liquor, a number of large cabins tennis courts, a function centre for 200 persons right on the shore of Lake Connewarre at Campbells Point (near Leopold)  If permitted to proceed it will set a precedent for other landholders with boundaries on the lakeside applying for developments next to the lake

We look forward to a future which protects the Bellarine wetlands, including Cheetham Salt pans in a well managed and protected birdlife park where visitors can come to enjoy the richness of Victorias birdlife.

Joan Lindros

President GEC - May 2015

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