With the deadline for the Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct Masterplan public exhibition period now past, some of the state’s leading conservationists, ecologists and former national parks managers have publicly implored NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian for more time.
The masterplan went on public exhibition on 28 June with submissions closing midnight Monday, 23 August, a timeframe condemned as being insufficient.
Almost 50 signatories – including former National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) regional managers Gary Dunnett, Ross McDonnell and Ross McKinney; National Parks Australia Council chair Dr Bruce McGregor, former national Greens leader Christine Milne and Nature Conservation Council of NSW chair Professor Don White – aired this among myriad concerns in an open letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald last week.
Urging the premier to halt or significantly amend the masterplan, which they describe as “disastrous”, they have also requested a minimum 60 day extension to the “totally inadequate” public exhibition period.
“We are dismayed by the unprecedented plans your government has announced for Kosciuszko National Park,” they wrote.
The masterplan seeks to significantly increase commercial development of Kosciuszko National Park and will see – among other developments – on-park accommodation increase by 60 per cent; clearing of wildlife habitat for car parking; helicopter flights to and from on-park resorts and allow commercial vehicles on walking tracks.
In the letter, the signatories have accused the government of abandoning landmark historic safeguards established to protect the pristine national park environment and they’ve requested an independent scientific review of the ecological condition and ecological restoration requirements of Kosciuszko National Park
“More than 75 years ago your parliamentary forebears legislated to protect the mountain landscapes, alpine habitats and headwaters of the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Snowy rivers as Kosciuszko National Park. It was a truly precious gift to future generations.
“Their legacy now stands at grave risk,” the letter said.
It went on to say planning documents exhibited by the NSW Government – the masterplan and a draft amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management – abandoned the long-standing balance between conservation and legitimate use by removing essential protections against inappropriate development.
“These radical plans are entirely out of keeping with Kosciuszko’s status as a national park and national heritage-listed place,” it said.
A park, they say, that is already under severe stress from climate change, mega-fires, feral pests, the loss of habitat for infrastructure projects and the continuing effects of historic damage from mining, grazing, the Snowy Mountains Scheme and resorts.
“We implore you to set aside these disastrous plans,” they said.
The signatories also suggested additional accommodation be constructed outside Kosciuszko National Park, “where it would create regional economic benefits without damaging the environmental values of the park”.
“Kosciuszko deserves so much more than ill-considered plans to generate fleeting commercial returns,” it said, “the Kosciuszko National Park we love deserves the respect and protection of your government.”
The work is expected to be administered by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s Department of Regional NSW.
According to the NSW Nationals, the exhibition period for the Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct draft masterplan attracted more than 13,000 views online.
Mr Barilaro, the Nationals MP for Monaro, has thanked those who made contributions and said there had been strong interest from both locals and tourists.
“The community’s feedback will help to shape the final masterplan and ultimately our 40-year vision for the Snowy Mountains region,” Mr Barilaro said.
“We received 2120 submissions with a further 1331 people commenting on the precinct’s interactive map. Despite the challenging circumstances, the project team held over 40 face-to-face group sessions, a number of online webinars and extensive individual stakeholder meetings.”
He said the NSW Government would take all feedback into consideration and would be responding to those who made submissions in coming months.
“Some changes may be made to the masterplan based on the feedback we heard from the community,” he said.
Mr Barilaro said community engagement would continue while submissions are assessed, ahead of the final masterplan in the first half of 2022.
He said there would be additional opportunities for the community to provide feedback beyond the master planning phase of the project including exhibition of the delivery plan as well as the Alpine and Jindabyne Development Control Plans both of which will occur once the masterplan is finalised.
Comment on the open letter was sought from the office of the NSW Premier but none was forthcoming, however John Barilaro’s office said in recognition of the complexity [of the special activation precinct draft masterplan] the exhibition period was released for a 45 day period and subsequently extended by 11 days due to community feedback, to a total of 55 days.
The statutory exhibition period under the EPA Act is 28 days.
“The exhibition period for the Snowy Mountains draft masterplan and Kosciuszko Plan of Management (PoM) has now concluded,” Mr Barilaro said.