Oyster growers are concerned a proposed development on the edge of Merimbula’s Top Lake could adversely affect the water quality and potentially damage their livelihoods.
The owner, Ray Miller, of a parcel of land (Lot 172 DP 1157144, Lakewood Drive) bordered by Lakewood Drive, Tern Close, Hillmead Crescent and Top Lake, has submitted a DA (development application) to Bega Valley Shire Council which if approved would see the development of 22 blocks on 3.24ha. One additional block has been set aside as a significant Aboriginal site although the DA says that “once determination of the application has been made a formal section 90 application will be made to the Office of Environment and Heritage for the removal/destruction of Aboriginal objects in order that regrowth may be removed and subdivision works may progress following issue of a construction certificate”.
On nine of the blocks the developer is requesting a change of zoning to allow units to be built. The developer also wants permission to build closer to the lake. Instead of the 75 metre setback from the high tide mark, the proposal would see a setback of only 30-40 metres from the high tide mark.
It is this latter aspect in particular, that is causing concern for oyster farmers.
Dominic Boyton, co-ordinator of the Merimbula quality assurance program for shellfish, said: “Our main concern is that it goes into the 75 metre setback which is a Bega Valley Shire Council regulation says all land development should have a 75 metre setback from high tide but on this application the setback is only 30-40 metres.”
Mr Boyton said: “This means that the setback goes into the wetlands and that is a good filter for storm water and it will be another 22 gardens that everyone fertilises and all those nutrients will go into the lake. The wetlands filter out a lot before it enters the lake.”
The DA alls the 75 metre set back “excessive” and adds that such a large set back would unreasonably impact on the development potential of the site”.
Mr Boyton also expressed concern about the entire building process. He said that there had been some bad experiences from previous developments that were cleared to bare soil. The area then flooded and the top soil went into the lake. He said that because the soil in that area had a high aluminium content it had an acidic effect on the lake water which resulted in oysters not growing for five years.
“We’re not against development just against the wrong sort of development. The front blocks are too close to the lake,” he said.
Under the 2013 Bega Valley Local Environmental Plan the area is zoned R3, medium density residential, although there is an E2 (environmental conservation) zone between the land and the lake. Building heights are allowable up to 10 metres and minimum lot sizes are 1000sq metres.
The land was zoned 2(c) residential tourist under the shire’s previously LEP and the proposal is to create residential lots as part of another stage of the Bellbird Ridge Estate development.
The DA states that lot sizes vary from 684 sq metres to 1840 sq metres with nine lots in excess of 100 sq metres. “This would allow for some lots to be developed into small unit complexes of four or more units,” the DA states which could be for tourist accommodation.
In his application Mr Miller said: “In this instance we consider that adherence to the development control plans minimum lot size of 1000 sq metres is neither justified nor warranted.”
The DA acknowledges that several threatened fauna species could occur on the site from time to time.
Merimbula resident and environmental film maker, Toni Houston, said she had made a submission about the development to council. In her letter Ms Houston referred to the area’s “unique mangrove ecosystem, bird sanctuary and aquaculture”.
Ms Houston said: “These mangroves provide a vital breeding ground for countless marine species, from the flathead to the cuttlefish. These in turn revitalise our commercial and recreational fish stocks; a literal womb for the associated ocean ecology. Badly regulated foreshore development is a huge threat to this system.
“Merimbula Lake is also a protected bird sanctuary, with nesting and feeding sites for various species including herons, egrets, pelicans, cormorants, eagles, kites, and the endangered Pied Oystercatcher.
“Increased urban development and associated noise and environmental pollution, as well as increased localised human activity - and threats from associated domestic species such as cats and dogs - will inevitably lead to disruption and displacement, and even incidental death, of many of these vulnerable species.”
Ms Houston said that council had an ongoing commitment to protect the interests of local oyster growers, and a long-standing agreement to minimise any foreshore development that may have detrimental affects on water quality and incidental pollution.
Oyster farmer and co-ordinator of the Love our Lakes environmental program, Brett Weingarth, said he was also worried about the proximity to the lake and had received a number of emails and phone calls from people concerned about the development.
The DA was on exhibition at Merimbula and Bega libraries until August 28 although Merimbula Lake oyster growers who were notified later, were given until today, Wednesday, September 4 to lodge a submission.
Planning manager at council, Keith Tull, said: “At this stage it’s a bit early to say if the application will be reported to council for determination.”