Proposed plan for the Roe Highway. Photo: Save Beeliar Wetlands group
Western Australia's environmental gatekeepers have given the green light to the contentious Roe Highway extension through parks and wetlands in Perth's southern suburbs.
The WA Environmental Protection Authority’s recommendation that conditional approval be given to a five kilometre extension of the highway has angered community and green groups, which have long opposed the project.
In a statement issued to media today, EPA chairman Paul Vogel said Main Roads had used innovative strategies to "avoid, minimise and mitigate environmental impacts" and the authority recommended conditional approval on the project.
The existing Roe Highway situation. Photo: Save Beeliar Wetlands group
But the move, which back flips on an EPA report in 2003 stating any construction through the Beeliar Regional Park would be extremely difficult to be made environmentally acceptable, has been met with fierce opposition.
Fremantle Mayor and Murdoch University sustainable development expert Dr Brad Pettitt said the highway would cut through the middle of wetlands rich with wildlife, dividing up an important ecosystem and adversely affecting endangered species such as the Carnaby's Cockatoos.
Mr Pettitt said the state government should be investing in rail alternatives rather than paving over biodiversity hotspots.
Mr Vogel said that the EPA 2003 report was advice, rather than a formal assessment, and that concerns formally raised, had now been addressed.
"The proponent has met these concerns through the relocation of the original Bibra Drive interchange to Murdoch Drive and the construction of a 120m-long bridge over Roe Swamp – to reduce fragmentation impacts to wetlands, fauna and vegetation – and through offsets to mitigate impacts on environmental values," Dr Vogel said.
The highway will provide an east-west link in the transport network, diverting trucks from Leach Highway and extending Roe Highway to Stock Road in Coolbellup.
Main Roads said it would shift up to 75,000 vehicles from local roads by 2031 and allow north-south traffic to bypass the Perth CBD and inner suburbs.
An independent report in 2009 concluded that without the extension "severe and restricted traffic flow" would be "widespread in Perth by 2031" and road safety, noise and pollution levels would worsen.
Save Beeliar Wetlands Community campaigner Kate Kelly said her group, which rallied thousands of people in 2009 to protest against the highway, would swing into action again and appeal the decision.
"We are shocked by this decision and no matter what happens, they have admitted that there will be serious environmental impacts to the wetlands and that they won't be able to mitigate against that," Ms Kelly said.
"The offsets will never replace those wetlands. What we are talking about here is devastation of local wetlands, there is no other way to look at that."
Meanwhile, Conservation Council director Piers Verstegen said the EPA had ignored the 3200 public submissions opposing the project and the council would also appeal.
"It is difficult to imagine how the EPA can reverse their previous rulings on this project, ignore thousands of community submissions and allow community values and environmental standards to be compromised so severely," Mr Verstegen said.
"It is another demonstration of just how far the EPA have strayed from their mandate, and from the concerns of community members they are supposed to serve."
But Mr Vogel said that all the issues raised by the community were considered by the EPA.
"Innovative strategies by the proponent to avoid, minimise and mitigate environmental impacts had been fundamentally important in the assessment, which resulted in recommendations for strict conditions incorporating a package of offsets including restoration works, wetland acquisition and at least 234 hectares of Carnaby's Cockatoo and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo foraging habitat," he said.
Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren said the Greens were hugely against the extension of Roe Highway through one of Perth's most pristine wetlands, home to iconic species of the Swan Coastal Plain.
"The EPA's decision is nonsensical. It is mind boggling - why are they giving an approval on an extension that is so costly to our environment?" Ms MacLaren said.
"We took huge cuts to an environmentally sound and economically beneficial light rail system, and made way for ploughing a road through our beautiful wetlands, wrecking more of our environment whilst encouraging more cars and freight onto our roads."