13 December 2023

Fix land scar and save wetlands says Goulburn action group

| John Thistleton
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The Goulburn Group founder and president Urs Walterlin.

The Goulburn Group founder and president Urs Walterlin says asking Goulburn Mulwaree Council to spend money on purchasing land would be a touchy subject in light of steep rate increases next year. But in the big picture, paying $1.1 million to remediate land above the Goulburn Wetlands would be money well spent. Photo: John Thistleton.

Goulburn Mulwaree Council is being urged to block a controversial 29-lot residential subdivision on cleared land which has caused scarring across a portion of Rocky Hill in the city’s east.

For the past three years rain has washed out a scar on the cleared hillside, causing stormwater and silty mud to fill backyards and spoil the Goulburn Wetlands below.

The Goulburn Group, which initiated the wetlands project, said major damage had occurred on repeated occasions, including as recently as late November, through scouring of the landscape from floodwater and tonnes of mud ending up in the wetlands.

“The consequences have been a drastic reduction in water quality that we fear has resulted in the deaths of many fish, reptiles and other species,” TGG founder and president Urs Walterlin said in a letter to the council.

TGG said the council should now revise its approval of a development application and although it required the previous developer to conduct remediation work and take further measures, as well as imposing fines, this had not prevented more erosion and damage to the wetlands.

“This underscores the point that development is unsuitable for a site that is too steep and has been almost completely cleared of trees,” TGG said. “Even imposing further conditions on development is unlikely to resolve this issue.

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“We believe that before any sale is finalised the development should be blocked and the site revegetated to return it to its previous state. If necessary the council should purchase the site to place it in public hands,” TGG said.

Initial development approval was granted in 2008.

“The additional consideration is that the wetlands were not constructed until well after this date,” TGG said.

“Our whole community can be proud of this precious environmental, educational and tourist asset that has attracted an increasing number of visitors,” TGG said. “It deserves to be protected for this and future generations.”

Friends and Residents of Goulburn Swamplands (FROGS) president Heather West said despite requests to the council no remediation of stormwater damage had been undertaken. FROGS had also sought a report on stormwater damage to the wetlands, to no avail.

The wetlands are home to eastern snake-necked turtles, which feed on aquatic invertebrates, tadpoles and small fish. It also has invasive species, including mosquito fish, which feed on ants, flies, aquatic bugs and beetles. European carp can also be found there.

FROGS has also identified the eastern sign-bearing froglet, common eastern froglet, spotted marsh frog, striped marsh frog, eastern banjo frog, robust bleating tree frog and Peron’s tree frog.

Since the land clearing and inundation, Heather says volunteers hear next to no frogs in the wetlands, while they are prolific in the nearby river.

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After storms, volunteers were diverted from their regular work to clean up, she said. “We spent 18 hours cleaning up the mess from the last storm,” Heather said.

She suspects the water in the ponds is evaporating more rapidly these days because of the amount of silt that has washed in there over the past three years, since the land clearing in May Street.

One of the original driving forces for the wetlands, Rodney Falconer, a former Goulburn high school teacher and environmental consultant, said in January 2022 the residential development would create yet another hillside of ‘ticky-tacky’ houses.

Meanwhile, TGG is also inquiring about plans for signs to the wetlands on prominent thoroughfares such as Auburn and Sloane streets, Goulburn.

“We were informed last year they had been included in council’s budget for this financial year,” TGG said.

A council spokeswoman said the development site might not have met current development standards for matters such as biodiversity, but had a valid development consent which could not legally be reviewed or revoked, nor could the owner be blocked from accessing it for the purposes of revegetation. Regarding signage, an audit of all signage would be undertaken, and outcomes provided to the relevant stakeholders in the new year.

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