As reported several times by Mountain Journal, the Alpine Shire in north east Victoria is currently investigating whether to develop a ‘Village Green’ (oval/ polo field/ elite athlete training ground) in the Dinner Plain village. The estimated cost of the project is $1.5 million and substantial investigations have been carried out to assess the likely environmental, social and economic implications of the proposal. Council is now deciding whether to proceed with developing the Green, which will require the destruction of almost 2 hectares of snow gum woodland (an assessment of the environmental impacts of this project is available here).

The information provided to the public by Council about the environmental impacts of the proposal and costs of managing the Green over time have been assessed by an independent ecological consultant. This was done in a voluntary capacity and provided to Council to aid in their decision making. An edited version is provided below.

I have read the relevant documents, inclusive of the Information Booklet and the flora and fauna assessment by Biosis, and have particular concerns about the environmental impacts and associated risks concerning offsets etc.

My biggest concern is that there are potentially significant ecological impacts and associated costs that are risks for the project that are not adequately considered.  I will go through each possible risk below but the biggest overall impact will possibly be on your cost benefit analysis for the project, i.e. if the costs go up any appreciable level then your cost benefit analysis could go into the negative quite easily.

First, I have compared the Village Green concept and the disturbance footprint detailed in the flora and fauna report and would strongly argue that the losses are underestimated for several reasons:

  1. The proposed works area defined by Biosis definitely looks smaller than the drawing in Figure 2 of the information booklet.
  2. It will difficult to limit the works and the impact to the proposed footprint in my view. There will inevitably be disturbance between existing buildings, use areas a nd tracks and the Village Green facility because of the inevitable desire lines that visitors will use between existing private land and use areas and the new Village Green.
  3. Batters have impacts beyond their footprint in most circumstances, including unanticipated impacts at construction, slumping after construction and drainage of water that inevitably encourages weeds. It is suggested that the batter facing the Great Alpine Road will be over 5 m high; this estimate could easily be wrong and such a batter and its construction and drainage over time will inevitably degrade the vegetation below it.

I would strongly suggest you need to look at construction impacts more carefully as they are underestimated, and revisit the analysis of the construction impacts and native vegetation losses with resulting implications for offset requirements.  In my view your impact zone is underestimated although it is hard to tell in some ways because Biosis hasn’t overlaid the plans onto the aerial photo; such a technique would have made the process clearer.

Second, I believe the habitat score of the cleared native vegetation is lower than it should be.  Biosis has followed DELWP instructions and used the Landscape Score from the DELWP database.  They have inserted a score of 18 for the Landscape Context out of 25, which means that the ecological values of the landscape in the habitat scoring procedure equate to 72% of the pristine landscape state.  I find this hard to believe in a landscape dominated by native vegetation and national parks with very few roads.  This score should be revisited and I would assert that the Landscape Context score could easily be higher, which would make the native vegetation losses and required offsets higher.

Thirdly, I would suggest you have severely underestimated the cost of maintenance and offsets.  In the information booklet you suggest that maintenance of the Village Green and the proposed offset site would be $32,500 each year.  I find it hard to imagine that the maintenance of the Village Green itself will be this little, much less the cost of the proposed offset site management.  I will only address the costs of offset management here to illustrate my point; I reckon the following costs could be required:

  1. At least 2 to 3 days by a qualified ecological consultant will be required each year just to monitor and report on offset management; this would be $2-3500 at least.
  2. Initial fencing would need to be built to ensure that no cattle get into the offset area.  Fencing 133 hectares would take at least $30,000 and amortised over ten years would mean a cost of $3,000 per year.
  3. Weed control to minimise the spread of existing herbaceous and woody weeds could be costly.  If 10 person days a year were required to manage these weeds, at $700 each, then another $7000 would be required.
  4. Then there will be general inspections and maintenance of fences, tracks and firebreaks required for managing visitors and fire risk.  Maintenance visits could easily up to $1,000’s each year and slashing for firebreaks could easily be $5-10K each year.
  5. The total cost for managing just part of the proposed offset site would easily be $25,000 each year.

I believe you have seriously underestimated the cost of the maintenance of the Village Green and of the proposed offset site.  I am a professional who implements offset site management on a regular basis and I can assure that I have many clients who would greatly desire to spend just part of $32,500 on managing an offset site.  For example, Trust for Nature won’t accept much less than $200,000 for managing an offset site for 10 years, which would be $20K per year.  In my experience, it would hard to manage an offset site of any size for that little.  However, I only know the proposed offset through occasional walks in the snow in that area and the cost of management could so easily be much more than that estimated.

With all of the blow outs in impacts, underestimated losses of native vegetation and increased offset costs in both quantity and maintenance I have detailed above I believe your cost benefit analysis that it is possible to stay in the positive is seriously at risk.  I would suggest strongly that you need to revisit these issues before moving forward because you are at risk of misleading the public, Dinner Plain ratepayers and your Council on the costs and benefits of the proposed development.

I would also oppose the development in general because the loss of over a hectare of Sub-alpine Woodland vegetation is unacceptable when alpine habitat is so rare in Australia.  It also will take away substantially from the current landscape values, destroying the feeling of a village in the snow gums that currently exists for Dinner Plain.  Surely, the council can find a way to meet the aims of the local community for public open space for gathering as a community while not incurring such a substantial construction cost nor such an enormous cost on the local environment and chipping away at the limited alpine habitat we have in Australia that is already at risk.

I am happy for this submission to be made public.