Frustrated residents whose properties are in the way of the Pacific Highway upgrade from Wardell to Ballina are outraged at the loss of animal habitat and a lack of communication from the project managers.
Sue Whiteman, who owns a property adjacent to the proposed route that runs west of Wardell, has been leading a campaign to raise awareness about the destruction of bushland, and the impacts on koalas and other animals in the area.
She is funding a short film, which is being shot by Suffolk Park filmmaker Andy Bambach, to show the extent of the devastation being felt by residents in the area.
Ms Whiteman, who has been lobbying against the chosen route for 13 years, said 36 species of endangered native animals would be impacted by the highway route.
She is also concerned about the impact on domestic animals in the area, and has postposed an overseas working trip to ensure her own horses are safely away from the area when blasting for the new route begins.
Despite repeated requests for a schedule of blasting, Ms Whiteman said she has been forced to wait weeks for answers from the authorities.
Meanwhile, Bundjalung elder Mickey Ryan, who is chairman of the Bundjalung Elders Council, visited the site recently and said he was devastated by what he saw.
Like the residents, he was critical of animal exclusion fences that have been built along the route, saying they prevented animals moving freely between their habitats.
‘The site of the burned area along Old Bagotville road is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen,’ he told Sue Arnold, from Australians for Animals.
‘The fences appear to have been designed to ensure animals have no chance to escape. These fences are preventing koalas from getting to their food on the other side of the road.
‘Putting up exclusion fences in a burned area where everything is so dry, there’s so much fuel and no escape route is plain wrong. Another major fire could break out any time.
‘The way the fences are set up animals can’t get over them. The escape hutches are ridiculous, no koala is going to use them. The RMS have created a death trap, the fences and escape hutches are amateurish. Animals that don’t climb wouldn’t be able to get over.
‘Witnessing the situation broke my heart, for this to be allowed is just not on. Seeing the reality here brought tears to my eyes. I ‘m told that almost 600 feed and shelter trees have been ring-barked, I can see they’re dying.
‘All these trees are to be clear-felled, Where are koalas going to get their food and moisture needs ? It’s shocking to realise we’re in the middle of breeding season. What kinds of stress must be happening to these animals?’
‘To deliberately kill their food supply by ring barking trees is just slaughter. All I could think about what who would allow this murder of native animals ? What Minister would allow this?’
Ms Whiteman said the upgrade was having a detrimental impact on the mental health of residents in the area.
She said one man in his 80s had developed a bad case of shingles from the stress caused by the highway upgrade, and was frightened to have any dealings with the RMS.
Ms Whiteman said she had personally been requesting information from the RMS for years about biodiversity planning but had been stonewalled.
She also said although she had been promised to be kept informed of any tree clearing, she arrived at her property earlier this to find her gate had been removed, along with access to her property.
‘A whole melaleuca forest along Bagotville Road was removed yesterday and we were not told it was happening.
‘Where is the ecological assessment? How did they know there were no animals living in that area.’