[EDITOR: Please note the ‘letter’ below was sent as an article by Meryl Brown Tobin, Grantville, but is published on our letters page instead.]
Sand mining companies are already expanding and set to expand along the bushland corridor east of Western Port Bay.

Some 95 per cent of West Gippsland has been cleared since the arrival of Europeans and occupation of Aboriginal land. Most of the remaining 5 per cent is the bushland running inland along the coast between Nyora-Lang Lang and Grantville. Much of it lies on top of a sand resource wanted by sand extraction companies and the state government.

Last year, the GMH Proving Ground with its extensive woodland came on the market. Save the Holden Bushlands (SHB), a group of locals and conservation-minded groups and individuals, appealed to the state government to buy it for the community.

Despite passionate arguments, the government stalled answering until it was too late for the community to work with the Bass Coast Shire Council, philanthropic groups and the public to try to fund buying it themselves.

In spring 2019, the mass flowering of many hundreds of flower spikes in the Sand Supplies Pty Ltd sand mine and in the adjacent Grantville Nature Conservation Reserve led to the discovery of the Grantville Grass Tree Forest. Despite intense lobbying by SHB, which morphed into Save Western Port Woodlands (SWPW) and individuals, in spring 2020, the sand company dug up and bagged hundreds of grass trees.

In a letter dated January 5, 2021, a senior DEWLP spokesperson wrote: “In December 2020, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) completed a site inspection to check compliance with the Work Authority, with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Parks Victoria also attending to provide advice. The inspection found that the relocation of grasstrees operation appeared to have been undertaken in accordance with the conditions of Work Authority.”

If that is the case, some would argue it is surely an argument to change the Work Authority, not to go on to destroy something of great value to the biodiversity of the region and of lifestyle amenity and tourism in perpetuity.

Now another sandmining company, Dandy Premix Quarries Pty Ltd (DPQ), wants to expand its excavation site 1.1km north of the Grantville shops. Despite, or because of 73 objections, the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, has called in the application. A Planning Panels Victoria Hearing finished on April 7, and the Panel is to report back to the Minister within 40 days.

DPQ’s proposals include the removal of a broad swathe of native vegetation for another pit. The bushland to be removed is part of a wildlife corridor which is part of the bio-link stretching from Nyora-Lang Lang to Grantville.

At a public information meeting in the Grantville Hall on February 19, 2013 Dandy Premix Quarries outlined advantages to Bass Coast Shire Council and locals to encourage them to support its proposal to set up a sand mine on farmland opposite a residential area.

Big posters set out the advantages. For instance, the Environmental Management Ecology poster (Board 7.0) declared no loss of native vegetation and efforts … to protect flora and fauna in adjoining locations. There was to be extensive native vegetation planting to establish a sustainable, secure Ecological Bio-link to local reserves and creeks. It even stated: Only 30 hectares of the 156-hectare site (<20 per cent) is to be used for quarry operations. New native vegetation site plantings of approximately 30 hectares will result in significant, long term conservation benefits and flora and fauna habitat gains.

Despite this commitment and despite revegetation clauses written into the Work Authority conditions stating plantings were to start in 2013, nothing happened for years and then only after intensive correspondence between conservationists and council. Nothing had been done by August 7, 2019 and it was not until April 4, 2020 that council stated: “the plantings have been completed in accordance with the requirements of the Section 173 agreement”.

On Board 2.0 Why This Site? DPQ also stated: As the groundwater table sits at approximately 1.0-3.0m AHD there will be no extraction below this level or interference with groundwater. Another commitment it now wishes to overturn.

At the hearing, Gerard Drew representing the South Gippsland Conservation Society, Anne Heath Mennell, Tim O’Brien for Save Western Port Woodlands, former BCSC councillor Neil Rankine, Gail Callaghan, Daniel Hopkins, who has had extensive experience in the extraction industry, and Meryl Tobin spoke to their submissions.

Save Western Port Woodlands leader Tim O’Brien said: “It should be inconceivable that just 12 months from the worst bushfires this country has ever seen, and the appalling loss of wildlife, flora and bushland that followed those fires, that this Panel can even find itself considering the removal of vulnerable lowland forest in a rapidly disappearing fragile forest ecosystem.

“Line up 1000 climate scientists and who among them would describe the removal of a forest corridor, with high value lowland forest, and connecting two areas of high conservation value, as ‘sustainable’ or ‘a sustainable solution’ to Melbourne’s construction needs?”

Tim O’Brien urges all who value the remnant native vegetation and who value the bio-link and our underground water, ground water and creeks and/or who are concerned at an untapped number of new mines and expansions of current mines, increased sand truck movements, expanded hours and increased dust, noise and light in their area; to let their councillors and parliamentarians know what they think.

Meryl Brown Tobin, Grantville.