Residents call for Gelorup Corridor to be classified a National Park

The Gelorup community have expressed serious concerns over the pre-construction work for the Bunbury Outer Ring Road's southern section.

Last month saw the State Government allocate more than $100 million for a series of "major job-creating road projects" as part of WA's economic recovery plan.

The BORR's construction phase is now set to begin in January 2021, three months earlier than originally anticipated. On an $852m budget, the project is expected to create around 4500 jobs.

According to Main Roads WA, no construction works on the northern, central or southern sections have occurred so far.

However, several on-site activities which do not need environmental approval have already taken place.

These include early vegetation planting, additional environmental and heritage surveys, ground surveys, utility location surveys, geotechnical investigations, and meetings with landowners over property acquisition.

"Construction is anticipated to commence early next year, subject to receiving State and Commonwealth environmental approvals," Main Roads spokesperson Dean Roberts said.

"Environmental approvals for the project are being sought for the northern and central section separately from the southern section.

"It should be noted that only one possible route for the whole project has been submitted for environmental review as the alternative southern corridor has not been pursued for project development since a comprehensive investigation, concluding last year, confirmed the suitability of the original route following the reserve in the Greater Bunbury Region Scheme."

Main Roads has confirmed that the (Commonwealth) Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the (State) Environmental Protection Authority have requested additional information regarding the southern section.

The additional information will be submitted later this year, and will also be made available for public review and comment.

"Main Roads will continue to communicate with all project stakeholders and community members through regular updates and newsletters," Mr Roberts said.

"The construction contract is expected to be finalised soon, after this we will work with the alliance to develop a more local presence to communicate with residents. We are already in contact with all directly affected landowners.

"Flora and fauna will be protected through a series of management plans, as mandated through any environmental approval conditions, and Main Roads' environmental policy. This includes assessing the safety of animals in the project area prior to works commencing.

"Main Roads will satisfy any and all conditions required through the environmental referral process, if the project receives approval."

Main Roads is now seeking licences from the Department of Water and Environment to extract 3.3 gigalitres of water from a number of different aquifers for the BORR's entire construction.

The authority plans to work with local industry to "investigate the potential re-use of waste water from various sources to reduce the water required from the aquifers".

A Friends of the Gelorup Corridor spokesperson said the pre-construction work should not have been allowed to take place without environmental approval.

The spokesperson also said the community have noted several flaws in the current system.

"Some environmental surveys have been incomplete or carried out in the wrong season. One survey group who arrived to survey trees and wetland, did not even get out of their car," they said.

"Habitat trees were missing from the tree survey. The existence of thousands of other trees is omitted from the impact assessment report altogether.

"There have been constant vehicles carrying out pre-construction work over the past year. Road reference markers have been drilled into the ground, streets are sprayed with marker lines, and wooden stakes are pegged.

"A contractor for Main Roads is now measuring the family homes that remain, to re-glaze windows for sound treatments.

"All of this without any state or federal environmental assessments complete - it has completely undermined our confidence in the environmental approvals process."

According to the spokesperson, seven ancient trees - located within the Gelorup Corridor - are at risk of being bulldozed to make way for the southern section.

All seven trees have been registered as Nationally Significant, with five having been listed by the National Trust of Western Australia.

The community is now calling for the Gelorup Corridor to be classified as a National Park.

"The average age of these trees is estimated at 130 years, with the oldest being approximately 400-years-old," the spokesperson said.

"The Gelorup Corridor is a rare place of tranquil natural beauty that should be conserved for future generations.

"These monumental, champion trees cannot speak for themselves, but our community can give them a voice."

Both the spokesperson and the community have urged the State Government to review a different, "more sustainable" long-term route for the BORR.

"We recognise that infrastructure projects are essential, but they must be properly planned and follow due process," they said.

"Fast tracking will do the opposite. We will continue to strongly oppose this destructive plan and ensure that all decision makers involved in this project are held to account."

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson did not wish to comment on the matter at this time.