Wetlands warning on level

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Watching the wildlife: Friends of the Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands vice-president Robin Clarey, right, and Sue Telfer will be keeping a keen eye on how level crossing removals may impact on endangered species. Picture: Darryl Gordon

RARE species of bird that migrate to the Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands and other endangered wildlife could be further threatened if rail under road is built at Bonbeach and Edithvale.

The state government announced last month that rail trenches would be dug to remove level crossings at Bonbeach and Edithvale.

The prospect of elevated rail, dubbed sky rail, has risen again.

The Level Crossing Removal Authority acting project director Brad Smith and senior planning and environmental specialist Adam Mitchell last week referred a report by consultants GHD and Aecom to the federal and state governments.

The report flagged possible “long-term and irreversible” impacts on the environmentally sensitive wetlands if rail goes under road at Bonbeach and Edithvale.

The LXRA noted an environment effects statement study will need to be completed to assess the chance of any damage to the Ramsar-listed Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands.

The report referred to federal Liberal Planning Minister Josh Frydenberg and state Labor Planning Minister Richard Wynne stated groundwater could be impeded from naturally flowing from the wetlands by two rail trenches.

“The impact would be indirect owing to the distance between each project area and the wetlands, and would result from construction of the proposed rail trenches changing the groundwater conditions up-gradient of the project areas,” the report stated.

Endangered wildlife including sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Australian Bittern, Curlew Sandpiper, Southern Brown Bandicoot and Growling Grass Frog could suffer due to a potential rise of 0.1 metres in groundwater “mounding” at the Edithvale section of the wetlands.

Vulnerable flora such as River Swamp Wallaby Grass Amphibromus fluitans and Swamp Everlasting Xerochrysum palustre could also be placed under greater stress if groundwater does not readily flow from the wetlands due to the rail trenches.

Friends of Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands vice-president Robin Clarey said she is not a hydrology expert but wetlands should have changing conditions “and need to dry out” occasionally so a water rise could negatively impact on wildlife and vegetation.

“We want a proper study done to see what the effects would be,” she said.

“My personal preference is not elevated rail but I do have concerns for the wetlands. They are a priority.”

Carrum MP Sonya Kilkenny said “it is important and absolutely appropriate” for the rail trench plans to be referred to the planning ministers “given their proximity to the internationally-protected Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands”.

“An environment effects statement is a detailed and comprehensive planning study that includes extensive community involvement. It evaluates the potential significant environmental, social and planning aspects of a project and the approach to managing those impacts and is typically undertaken on major projects where particular risks are identified that may have a significant effect on the environment.

“We expect a decision from the Planning Minister on whether or not an EES is necessary over the coming months. If an EES is necessary, this will take between 12 to 18 months.”

Ms Kilkenny said the federal government may put conditions in place to protect flora and fauna under the terms of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Mordialloc MP Tim Richardson said the wetlands are “a treasure for our region”.

“Importantly, the EES process will ensure that the trench solution has the least possible impact on the wetlands to preserve it for generations to come,” he said.

“It will also assess and help mitigate environmental and social impacts.

“The LXRA has undertaken a significant amount of research and assessment into groundwater and found the trench solution possible and feasible at Edithvale and Bonbeach.

“I can’t wait to see these projects put out to tender towards the end of the year.

The proposed rail trenches would be dug up to eight metres deep and about one kilometre in length.

Eleven level crossings are being removed along the Frankston line as part of a state government project to separate rail from road at crossings across Victoria.

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 29 March 2017

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