A BUANGOR resident and her legal counsel are seeking a suspension of Commonwealth financing for the Western Highway duplication project.
Concerned landowner MairiAnne Mackenzie, who will have part of her land acquired through the project, is seeking to halt the start of works on a section of a 12.5-kilometre stretch between Buangor and Ararat. She believed it will cause significant environmental damage and has not been adequately identified in VicRoads’ Environmental Effects Statement.
The EES was used by an independent panel that made recommendations for then Planning Minister Matthew Guy for approval in 2013. A different section of the EES led to the destruction of almost 900 old native trees near Beaufort last year, with VicRoads conceding that it “severely underestimated” the environmental impact.
Ms Mackenzie feared that history was set to repeat itself. Her legal counsel Michael Kennedy has initiated contact with post-approval staff of the Department of Environment as well as federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt in March, citing “flaws in the EES” (as established by Biosis and Ecology Australia reports) and potential impacts to Matters of National Environmental Significance as reason to push for a suspension of finance.
“That suspension is open to the (federal Environment) Minister (Greg Hunt) under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Section 144 if he decides there are ‘significant impacts’ caused or to be caused by the Option 1 works,” Mr Kennedy said.
Mr Kennedy said there is “rare” precedent for the Minister suspending approval. She also said the DoP could cancel the approval under certain conditions but conceded it was “a long shot”. He said he and Ms Mackenzie will continue to push for a review of approved route.
“We are continuing to co-operate with VicRoads and the DoE to seek a negotiated outcome, seeking a VicRoads decision to seek a review of the earlier 2013 decisions,” he said.
A spokesperson for Mr Hunt said the department is currently reviewing the information provided.
“Ms Mackenzie has approached the Department with concerns about the Western Highway Project approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (2010/5741),” the spokesperson said.
“The Department is currently reviewing the information provided.
“The Act protects matters of national environmental significance, for example, listed threatened species and ecological communities. Approval under the Act is required if an action, like road construction, is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance.”
VicRoads project director Michael McCarthy remained confident that the approved alignment was the best option. “The current approved alignment is the best option with the least environmental impact,” he said.