Residents of Pottsville on the Tweed Coast say development of a proposed sports ground at Black Rocks threatens to wipe out koalas and other wildlife in the area.
The greenfield site is in the heart of a wildlife corridor surrounded by native forest of the Pottsville Wetlands, which is core koala habitat.
Black Rocks is one of three koala population cells on the Tweed Coast with an estimated 35 koalas living and breeding there. Residents often see and photograph some of them perched in trees at the entrance to the sportsfield.
But Tweed Shire Council is proposing to expand the sports ground at the end of Overall Drive on the southern fringe of Pottsville with night tennis courts and install 48,000-watt lighting.
More than 3,000 people have signed petitions calling for rejection of the application and residents rallied at the sportsfield on Friday afternoon appealing to council not to go ahead with the plan.
Further protest actions are planned and locals have threatened to take the issue to the Land and Environment Court if council presses on.
The isolated nature of the field leaves the facility prone to vandalism and gates at the top of the road leading into the sports ground were recently locked after wild parties were held there and hoons tore up the road.
Resident Lorraine Cobcroft says the sports ground is in the heart of core koala habitat and koalas ‘live and breed in the trees right next to the grounds and roadway.
‘Expansion of the sports facility will put the already endangered koala at serious risk, as well as threatening curlews and ospreys, which have also been found breeding nearby,’ Mrs Cobcroft said.
The petition to council says the use of the Black Rocks sportsfield should be restricted to low-key, passive, day-time activities, with substantial buffers between them and the adjacent bushland due to the adverse environmental impacts on nocturnal wildlife.
‘Night sport lights, vehicular headlights and associated human noise and movement will disturb the nocturnal animals which live and breed in the bushland surrounding the sportsfield and access road, where there have been many koala and Bush Stone-curlew sightings.
‘Koalas (federally-listed as vulnerable) use the access road as a corridor at night to move between breeding and foraging locations.
‘They will be in danger of vehicle strike from those attending night sporting events.’
Residents say there is also a high risk of attack on nocturnal animals by dogs which may accompany visitors to night sporting events, ‘who would be aware that no dog zones are not patrolled at night’.
‘As the koalas are on the brink of extinction on the Tweed Coast, every effort should be made to ensure the survival of the remaining 144 koalas,’ the petition says.
‘Leaving the access road entry gate open in the evening will increase the risk of hoon activity and use of the access road as a drag strip, which was occurring regularly until the boom gate was installed.
‘The Black Rocks koala cell has been identified by the Tweed Coast Habitat Study as an area which needs the highest level of maintenance and recovery if the Tweed Coast koalas are to be saved from extinction.
‘It is located in the heart of a wildlife corridor which the Pottsville Wetland Restoration Plan and the Dunloe Sands Project are revegetating in order to strengthen connectivity to Wooyung and Billinudgel Nature Reserves to the south.’
Council is set to consider its own development application (DA) for the expansion at its next meeting on November 21.
A spokesperson for the campaign, Dave Norris, said ‘we have to protect the environment and the local wildlife population and if councillors fail in their duties, we have to hold them to account.’
‘The area is a breeding ground for koalas, curlews, osprey, and other native species. Koalas and echidnas regularly amble across the road into the facility,’ Mr Norris said.
‘Koalas are an endangered species. Tweed Shire Council invests heavily in programs to restore their habitat and regenerate eucalypt forests, as well as programs to restore wetlands.
‘It seems grossly inconsistent with this policy to consider approving a proposal to expand development in the heart of an area inhabited by koalas and other rare and endangered wildlife.
‘The beautiful bushland and iconic Australian wildlife is a key attraction of Tweed Shire. It attracts new residents, tourists and holiday-makers, boosting the economy of the region.
‘Residents of Black Rocks say they bought land there, at premium prices, because they enjoy being surrounded by bush land.
‘They appreciate having native animals as neighbours, and they want the character of the area preserved,’ he said.
‘Pottsville is already well serviced with sporting facilities, and development guidelines recommend that facilities be located in central areas and close to schools.
‘The Black Rocks fields are many kilometres from the town’s major population centre,’ Mr Norris said.
The current proposal originated when it appeared tennis courts in the town centre might need to be relocated, but locals say this requirement no longer exists.
‘There now appears to be no logical reason for expanding the Black Rocks field,’ he said.
‘Residents are concerned that this may be only ”Stage 1” of a broader plan. Council has already reviewed an application to expand the Black Rocks field to a high use recreation facility covering 25 hectares.
‘Such a facility might potentially cater to motor sports, go kart racing, shooting, paint ball, golf, and other sports that would seriously endanger wildlife in the area.’
Council, Mr Norris said, sought an environmental impact study that suggested that the development could be ‘controlled’, but residents dismiss it as ‘nonsense’.
‘It is absurd to suggest that satisfactory controls could be implemented to protect either the wildlife and bush land, or the amenities local residents enjoy,’ Mr Norris said.
‘The report cited Koala Beach as an example of successful management of development in koala habitats, but residents and former residents of Koala Beach say wildlife was prevalent and seen constantly in the estate a few years ago, but has all but completely disappeared.’
Team Koala and other conservation groups are supporting the campaign.
Mr Norris said approval of the plan sets a dangerous precedent.