The Bega Valley has delivered a resounding “bugger off” to those who want to develop a $10 million flight school at the grassy Frogs Hollow Airstrip between Merimbula and Bega.
Close to 400 people packed into the Bega Civic Centre to address the State Government’s Joint Regional Planning Panel who will determine the fate of the development.
Because of the scale and nature of the proposal, Bega Valley Shire Council sits at arm’s length, however, Mayor Kristy McBain followed by a number of other councilors were the first to speak against the Development Application at Wednesday’s hearing, echoing previous statements from Council.
The three-member panel heard from 45 people over a five hour period, the applicants Sports Aviation Australia were in attendance but did not address the meeting, in fact, no one spoke in favour of the idea.
Mayor Kristy McBain was critical that the development’s Environmental Impact Statement only dealt with the airfield and not the broader landscape it would operate in;
“This is overdevelopment and will substantially change the rural feel of the area.”
“This is a big difference to how the airfield is used now.”
“This represents an additional fire danger given the number of flights over wooded terrain.”
The Mayor and a number of others also raised national security concerns around the “Chinese only” operation, Cr McBain pointing to Eden’s role with the Australian Navy – 76 Naval movements a year and the armaments depot on the southern shores of Twofold Bay.
Moira Scollay, Deputy Chair of Four Winds, suggested the proposal threatened their 27-year history of outdoor performances at Bermagui;
“Let’s be very clear, the noise levels associated with the flight school would put in doubt the continued existence of Four Winds itself.”
“Aircraft noise and airborne pollution would ruin the tourist experience and adversely affect tourism numbers, something on which all coastal communities depend.”
Barry Irvin, Executive Chair, Bega Cheese, believes the business model doesn’t stack up, he also fears the impact on milk supply;
“As a business person I can’t accept a number of points in the DA, I know what it takes to build a business and employ people.”
“To see some of my best dairy farmers, the future of this company impacted by this breaks my heart.”
Barry Murray, an acoustic consultant from Wilkinson Murray, engaged by the Bega Valley Residents Against Frogs Hollow Flying School says industry standard methodology wasn’t used in the developers noise testing;
“Background noise levels should have been measured over seven days not 1.5 hours.”
“Not all the residences in the area were identified or assessed.”
“I feel strongly that this development should be treated like a factory development in that there should be no noise impact.”
Fraser Buchanan, President, Bega Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association;
“The BVSRRA believes that attempts by the proponent to characterise the proposed flying school as a “tourism venture” are at best disingenuous & at worst, simply misleading, when its operation will not only clearly damage & disrupt the lives of thousands of the shire’s residents, but will also damage the natural attraction of a significant part of the shire that is a current driver of tourism activity in the region.”
Peter Barbara, Bega Valley Combined Chambers of Commerce;
“We can not support a new business in the shire that will have a detrimental impact on the other business of the shire.”
“This project fails the public interest test.”
Paul McMurray, President, SCPA-South East Producers, concerned about the impact pollution will have on soil and water;
“We believe the development will threaten existing organic producers and inhibit new producers.”
While the support of the region’s leaders and community organisations added real weight to the argument it was the simple plea of residents that left its mark.With trembling hands, shaky voices, and obvious nerves and emotion people from as far away as Mallacoota stared down any fear of public speaking to be heard.
Those who spoke yesterday have either lived in the Valley for generations and have contributed to its place in the world or have been drawn to these rolling green hills and sapphire waters from the city, looking for peace, community, and sustainability
Ancret Shipton, Kanoona dairy farmer;
“We can’t escape the noise, cattle will be stressed and harder to handle.”
“Developers have shown disregard for our concerns.”
“It is unacceptable for one enterprise to impact so many livelihoods.”
Resident Sandy Rocca, speaking of the Social Impact Statement submitted by Sports Aviation Australia;
“Nine people were surveyed, that is 0.006% of the three shires that will be affected.”
“The developer has made no effort to engage with the community.”
“If we don’t care about what happens in our backyard who will?”
Bill Kershaw, Whyndham;
“Every 12 weeks there’ll be 360 trainee pilots, that’s 28,000 takeoffs and landings.”
Steve Jackson, Buckajo;
“Aviation in all forms contributes to carbon emissions, this application makes no mention of that.”
Resident Ian Gorton speaking about noise;
“Right now I have two butcher birds and a couple of magpies.”
“The development is not the airstrip it is the planes flying overhead.”
Craig Richmond, Black Range;
“The developer couldn’t find one organic farm, we found thirteen.”
Kerry Grant, Frogs Hollow, speaking to the accommodation and hospitality infrastructure proposed for the site;
“This is a development equivalent to a town of around 500 people.”
“We’ve been told to expect a conservative drop in our property value of 20%”
Bill Middleton, Frogs Hollow;
“The personal turmoil of this development on my wife and I has resulted in sleepless nights and despair.”
Resident, Paul Bennett;
“Its plain rude and selfish to have our reality changed forever to satisfy the commercial interests of a few.”
Resident, Scott Toohey, father of five, 18 years in the Army;
“This is a place to heal. We have found our peace and quiet in the Bega Valley.”
“I know I am not the only veteran to turn to the Bega Valley.”
Jane O’Shea, Mallacoota, raising language concerns about the Chinese only operation;
“How can they respond to radio chatter that they may not understand.”
Keith Summerill, Candelo – Wolumla Road, points to local weather conditions;
“During the three months of winter, it is rare to have 50 metres of clear vision before 11 am.”
Don Kellond, Toothdale;
“Frogs Hollow Airstrip is subject to an inversion layer.”
Judy Geary, Bega;
“This Shire has invested in the Wilderness Coast brand, the Bega brand also points to a clean, green image. This development will compromise that.”
“Peace is the new luxury.
Megan Jordon-Jones, Buckajo;
“36,000 hours of flying will expose the community to risk.”
“We give up city amenities to gain a peaceful rural life.”
“The proposed workforce of 200 jobs is overinflated.”
“Noise pollution is a catalyst for depression and anxiety.”
Colin Reed, Buckajo Road;
“Our dreams have been shattered by this development.”
“Who would want to stay in our B&B?”
“If this development goes ahead we couldn’t stay.”
Barb Rogers, Kingswood, raising concerns about stress to livestock;
“This will lead to reduced growth rates and lower prices at the sale yard.”
“Why should we lose money while the developer makes money?”
Jenny Gardener, Candelo;
“Please listen to the democratic process and reject this application.”
The timetable from here for the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel is unclear, however, Chair Pam Allan says a determination meeting will be held in Bega where people will be offered one last chance to speak.
On top of the five hours of testimony yesterday, all levels of political representation in the Bega Valley have spoken out against the proposal, and 721 written submissions have been received – surly this flight school can’t be approved.
Residents will continue to worry until the outcome is known, for the time being, they can sleep a bit easier knowing they have participated strongly in the decision making process.