By Kirra Grimes

THE recent removal of hundreds of ancient grass trees at Grantville to make way for a sand quarrying to fuel Victoria’s infrastructure boom has brought a long-running conflict between industry and the environment to a head, with Bass Coast Shire Council condemning the destruction of “pristine, beautiful vegetation” for expanding extraction sites.

Newly elected Western Port Ward Cr Rochelle Halstead received unanimous support from her fellow councillors at last Wednesday’s ordinary meeting in pushing for local and state government interventions to address the removal of an estimated 250 grass trees at an expanding quarry site next to the Grantville Nature Conservation Reserve in recent weeks, saying such “devastation” could not be tolerated, especially in light of council’s recent Climate Emergency Declaration.

Cr Halstead emphasised the urgency of a response from local authorities, as dozens of environmentally and financially valuable specimens were “almost dead,” and if not properly cared for and replanted soon, “a very significant part of vegetation on the Bass Coast” could be lost forever.

“Some of these trees have been there for hundreds of years and in one fell swoop, they’ve been ripped out of their home and placed into bags and it seems it hasn’t been done with much care,” Cr Halstead said.

“They’re sitting out in the sun at the worst possible time of year for them to be removed…

“They’re very vulnerable and we need to move very quickly to try and save them,” she said.

Fellow Western Port Cr Bruce Kent said it was “evident the owner of the sand mine doesn’t have any idea how to care for these plants” and hoped council officers could convince them to “be open minded and gain a little bit of community spirit….”

Opponents of sand quarrying at Grantville say recently dug up ancient grass trees were sitting in bags “wilting” and “dead or dying” on a visit to an extraction site last week. (Photo: Meryl Tobin)

The comments echoed concerns expressed by constituents including members of the Save the Holden Bushlands group, who’ve labelled the removal of the trees “environmental vandalism” and demanded a swift reaction from state environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio.

“At the end of the day, this mine is operating under a lease carved out of the Grantville Conservation Reserve,” Save the Holden Bushlands spokesperson Tim O’Brien said last week.

“The Lang Lang to Grantville forest belt the miners are pillaging belongs to the people; the rare orchids, the magnificent stands of grass trees, the populations of critically endangered wildlife in this biolink corridor, belong to the people. This should spur to action any Minister charged with their protection.”

Grantville locals including Meryl Tobin (pictured) are campaigning to stop further destruction of a grass tree forest spread over a sand extraction site and the adjacent Grantville Nature Conservation Reserve. (Photo: Hartley Tobin)

Locals resist industry ‘take over’

The removal of the grass trees has raised questions about how to achieve a balance between demand for the region’s sand and gravel resources versus the preservation of significant native vegetation – something Grantville residents Meryl and Hartley Tobin have been trying to draw attention to for nearly two decades now.

Mrs Tobin said the Waterline (Nyora-Lang Lang to Grantville) community had succeeded in the past in slowing down the spread of sand quarrying, but recently, it looked like it was starting to “take over” the Grantville area, with at least one large new extraction site in the planning, and several existing sites currently expanding or seeking permission to expand, such as the Dandy Premix site opposite Deep Creek Street, whose operators recently submitted a $6.5m planning permit amendment application to council.

“When you have a scarce resource – in this case land – and it is valuable to the community for its natural beauty, its biodiversity and the need we have for oxygen from plants for us and other life to exist, and it is in competition with the mining industry and governments who want sand and gravel, there is a problem,” said Mrs Tobin, one of the more than 70 people who’d submitted a formal objection to the Dandy Premix proposal as of yesterday.

“Residents are concerned that we seem to be having to fight the same battle over and over again – how can our environment and biodiversity sustain such constant onslaught? How much of the environment that we depend on for life are we prepared to sacrifice for a dying industry like sand?”

New strategy needed

Whether or not the quarry’s operators, Sand Supplies Pty Ltd, had broken any rules or laws in removing the grass trees was the subject of some confusion at Wednesday’s council meeting, with neither council CEO Ali Wastie nor council manager James Stirton able to clarify council’s authority over the site when Bunurong Ward Cr Les Larke asked if any breaches of the work permit had occurred.

Cr Halstead’s motion however included a provision to “assess whether the work order appropriately protects our region’s distinctive native vegetation and endangered flora”.

Deputy Mayor Michael Whelan was among the councillors to voice support for a new approach to land management in the Waterline region, including a strengthened partnership with the Bunurong Land Council to guide appropriate use and development now and into the future.

“This a burgeoning problem across our while shire,” Cr Whelan said, highlighting the “perverse paradox” of pulling out native vegetation while in the midst of a climate emergency.

“We’re a tourism area; we’re natural environment area – yet we’ve got this sort of activity going on, ripping out the guts of the country, thousands of B-double trucks carting sand up to Melbourne at the expense of pristine, beautiful vegetation – we need to have a seriously good look at it,” he said.

An expanding sand quarry at Grantville. (Photo courtesy of Save the Holden Bushlands group).

The Save the Holden Bushlands group has called for a review of “all existing work orders in sand mining leases in the Lang Lang-Grantville area,” taking into account the presence of endangered flora and fauna, which it says was not considered the first time around, back in the 1990s.

The group’s also campaigning to have the grass tree forest and other remnant coastal forest running from the Adams Creek Nature Conservation Reserve (Lang Lang) to Grantville included in the State Government’s Distinctive Areas and Landscapes project, which is still under development.

State government responds

A state government spokesperson told the Sentinel-Times yesterday, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) staff, alongside Earth Resources Regulation staff, would be visiting the Grantville Quarry Reserve site early next week to assess the “translocation” of grass trees at the site.

They said all quarry activities currently taking place in the Grantville Quarry Reserve were included in the approved Work Authority area, and that there were “no plans to allow quarry expansion into the [Parks Victoria-managed] Grantville Nature Conservation Reserve”.

“Earth Resources Regulation ensures quarries operate in accordance with their approved work plans to meet their requirements under the state’s mining and environment regulations.

“The management of grass trees in this area is undertaken in accordance with these requirements,” the spokesperson said.

They also clarified that the sand quarries in the Bass Coast area are not mines, and local extraction does not relate to minerals sands, but to the raw ingredients used to make concrete and other building materials which are in high demand due to unprecedented infrastructure investment across Victoria.

Sand Supplies Pty Ltd did not respond to requests for comment.


UPDATE 01/12/20: Read the quarry operator’s response here.