Australasian Grayling
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Australasian Bittern
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Growling Grass Frog
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Brown antechinus
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Southern Bent-Wing Bat
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The proposed Princetown wetland development site is on a floodplain of a nationally recognised wetland, the Gellibrand River estuary and adjacent to the Great Otway National Park. The site is subject to three types of floods, which in some cases can potentially occur together: freshwater floods; flooding when the intermittently-open estuary naturally closes over; and flooding from ocean storm surges as happened in 2015.

The function of the floodplain will be restricted and wetland habitat reduced. A raised road through the entire property, and other infrastructure needed to service the large resort, will potentially cause upstream flooding and limit the extent of wetland habitat. This habitat is critical for a number of rare and threatened species such as the Australian grayling, Australasian bittern, Growling grass frog, Swamp antechinus and Southern bent-wing bat.

 

The development plan of the proposed Montarosa Resort has changed substantially since it was on public display. While very evident to the local community, the wider community was not aware of the extent of flood prone land before the Corangamite CMA assessment. Nor was it was known that waste from the resort couldn’t be treated on site, as initially proposed, but would need to be trucked to another town’s treatment plant. Further, several rare and threatened species and communities, likely to be impacted, were not initially identified in the desktop studies undertaken by the consultants for Montarosa Pty Ltd.

The Princetown Wetland and Estuary Preservation Group and individual community members could not afford to take the decision to a VCAT Hearing, instead they attended a VCAT mediation session which determined the 70 permit conditions. Hence the views of Montarosa consultants have not been tested.  Expert opinion sought by the Group since mediation questions the assumptions and conclusions of reports provided by Montarosa.

Since conditional approval of the Montarosa Resort several key planning documents have been developed and the Marine and Coastal Act 2018 passed to better guide coastal management. Before this large development is allowed to proceed the community is urging outstanding reports and management plans be assessed against these new strategies and legislation to ensure best-practice planning for this very prominent and sensitive site.

 

The Shipwreck Coast Master Plan (The Shipwreck Coast Master Plan - An Overview)

The Plan identifies opportunities for Princetown and suggests improving recreational access including wetland boardwalks, viewing hides, a kayak/canoe, fishing and bicycle hub and a new trail loop to the Glenample Homestead where it suggests locating a food and visitor precinct.

This large resort with accommodation and a 300 seat restaurant is contrary to the Plan and the community’s vision for Princetown developed following 3 years of consultation. The community supports access to affordable, low-key accommodation. The location of this resort next door to the existing Princetown Recreation Reserve and Camping will impact on the amenity of those choosing to stay at the reserve, which is popular with families, anglers and those looking for quieter nature-based experience.

The Plan does identify the opportunity for Eco- developments but does not specify their location. However, a development in this sensitive location that: requires buildings be raised above the flood level; will potentially impact threatened species; needs to truck sewerage for disposal in another town; and has implications for future flood plain and estuary management is NOT an ‘Eco’ Resort.

Additional Relevant Strategies and Legislation

The following strategic planning documents and the Marine and Coastal Act have been developed since the permit was granted. The development should be consistent with these documents, which represent best-practice coastal planning for Victoria.

Corangamite Regional Floodplain Strategy (Regional Floodplain Strategy 2018)

The Action for Princetown (p 58) recommends to ‘Seek funding to investigate the berm dynamics for the lower Gellibrand River This action needs to link in with any Coastal Hazard Assessment and could include recommendations for planning controls in estuarine areas’

As recommended in the Strategy, a Coastal Hazard Assessment should be undertaken prior to this development to determine the risks associated with locating the proposed resort on the floodplain of the Gellibrand River estuary.

Gellibrand River Estuary Management Plan (Gellibrand River Estuary Management Plan 2017)

The Plan recognises the need for action to address a lack of information about seagrass meadows (Action14), fish habitat (Action 17), Australasian Bittern habitat (Action 19) and Coastal Acid Sulphate Soils (Action 21). The Plan acknowledges the need to respond to events such as storm surges, which are likely to increase as a result of climate change (Actions 22 – 26). The Plan also recommends assessing the suitability of local government planning controls to ensure they recognise the variable inundation regimes associated with intermittently open estuaries (Action 32).

The Environmental reports for the proposed development assume a negligible impact from the development despite the lack of knowledge of habitat requirements for rare and threatened plant and animal species. In addition, the reports make no mention of how placing a large development on the floodplain will limit options for adaptation in response to climate change and influence estuary entrance management decisions for this estuary type, which naturally closes over for several months most years.

The Marine and Coastal Act 2018

The Marine and Coastal Act 2018 requires developments to be sustainable and assessed using an ecosystem approach that is risk-based and aligns with the precautionary principles. The proposal should be assessed against the principles and objectives of the Act to ensure it meets these higher standards.

Also see the Draft Marine and Coastal Policy which will strengthen coastal planning and ‘guide decision-makers (including local councils and land managers) to deliver coordinated and consistent planning, management and sustainable use of our coast and marine environment’.

The Draft Siting and Design Guidelines for the Coast are soon to be publically released. These guidelines should inform the location and structure of this significant development.

 

Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999   - New Listing

‘Assemblages of species associated with open-coast salt-wedge estuaries of western and central Victoria ecological community’ was listed as Endangered under the EPBC Act in 2018. Assemblages of species associated with open-coast salt-wedge estuaries.

The resort will also have implications for estuary management. The Gellibrand River estuary is an intermittently closed estuary also known as a salt-wedge estuary. The assemblages of fauna and flora in these estuaries were EPBC-listed last year and artificially opening the estuaries was noted as a threat.  The pressure to open the estuary will increase once the resort is on the floodplain. For the last 10 years, DELWP, committees of management, local government and Catchment Management Authorities have supported raising or removing infrastructure from estuary floodplains to reinstate a more natural hydrology for these systems – this resort is a huge step backwards.