PLANNING Minister Richard Wynne has called in a controversial application for a Grantville sand mine expansion, opening a new chapter in a growing stoush between miners and Bass Coast conservationists.
The application by Dandy Premix to deepen its current sand mine, open a new pit and expand its operating hours drew 73 objections before Mr Wynne called in the application at the request of the company.
His letter to the council makes it clear the state will not be thwarted in its infrastructure drive by concerns about remnant forest and endangered species.
“Their availability will contribute to the development of land within Metropolitan Melbourne, including the delivery of key public infrastructure projects. Therefore, I consider that the project raises major issues of policy and may have a substantial effect on the achievement planning objectives.”
News of the Minister’s decision caps off a bad week for community members battling to preserve Bass Coast’s remnant coastal forest.
A group who visited the Grantville Nature Conservation Reserve last weekend were shocked to see more than 250 grass trees, many pre-dating European arrival, had been removed and bagged and were now dying in the adjacent Sand Supplies quarry.
The destruction of the grass trees was raised as an urgent motion at the first meeting of the new Bass Coast Shire Council on Wednesday.
Councillors voted unanimously in support of a six-part motion moved by Rochelle Halstead, the new councillor for Western Port ward, to try to save the grass trees that have already been removed and to seek assurances that work permits do not allow the removal of endangered flora.
The council support is significant as the community gears up to try to protect the remnant Western Port coastal forest from an influx of sand mining companies, encouraged by the State Government to secure sand for Melbourne’s urban expansion. Proposed planning provisions would remove the right of communities, farmers and local government to object to sand mining.
"They're ripping the guts out of the country," Cr Michael Whelan said. "We can’t continue to tear down buildings and put them into landfill and then tear up pristine bush to make new buildings. It doesn’t make sense."
After the meeting, Mayor Brett Tessari said there was a limited amount the council could do in a legal sense.
"We need to continue to communicate with the owners of the sand mine. [Robbie Viglietti] has previously been very community minded. If we can continue to work with him, hopefully we can get a result that works for everyone. But we need the state to step up and lead on this."
The Gurdies resident Meryl Tobin, who has long campaigned to save the grass trees, called for urgent intervention by the Stater Government and the Minister for the Environment, Lily D'Ambrosio.
The Sand Supplies mine sits on a mining lease adjacent to the Grantville Nature Conservation Reserve. Many of the work orders allowing mining in the Grantville forest corridor date back to the Kennett era and earlier.
The forest affected, running from the Adams Creek Nature Conservation Reserve (Lang Lang) to Grantville is the last significant stand of riparian coastal forest in the whole of Western Port and the only coastal forest remaining in the Bass Coast region.
Save Western Port’s Coastal Forest spokesman Tim O’Brien said multiple quarries operate under historic sand mining leases in the environmentally-sensitive Grantville forest corridor. Several of the mine operators have plans to expand their operations.
“It beggars belief that the State Labor Government seems prepared to put the tourism industry at risk in this important region, the gateway to Phillip Island and its world-famous Penguin Parade, the gateway to the spectacular Bunurong coastline, and an area renowned for its rural amenity and distinctive landscapes.
“Worse, that it is prepared to trade the extinction of fragile communities of endangered wildlife and ancient, rare, coastal flora, for carparks and bridges in Melbourne, is a gross failure of public policy.
“The question for Environment Minister D'Ambrosio is when is a conservation area actually for conserving, and a biolink corridor actually for protecting, and not just a resource to be ravaged by sand miners?”
Mr O’Brien said there should be no further expansion of any of the mines in the fragile forest corridor and a review of all existing work orders in sand mining leases.
“Where endangered populations of flora and fauna are identified, the Victorian government must begin a process of extinguishment of leases.
“At the end of the day, this mine is operating under a lease. The forest belt the miners are pillaging – the endangered flora and fauna, the ancient grass trees – belong to the people.”
Catherine Watson is a member of Save Western Port's Coastal Forest.