September 1 - 7, 2019: Issue 419


Council Votes for destruction of pittwater environment and wildlife on historic station beach - a family beach

Station Beach - gone.

The council serving the Pittwater community during its first ever term via a state government decree placed on record opposing and paradoxical decisions at this months General Meeting; finally declaring a climate emergency, alike so many other local councils, but demonstrating a failure to understand the science behind habitat loss, giving the go ahead for a dog trial at Station Beach.

Greens Curl Curl councillor Natalie Warren, introducing the motion, explained that the council can be a powerful advocate for climate action and can encourage individuals to get involved.

“This is a symbolic but emblematic gesture (that we will) follow up with an action plan,” she said.

Her comments were preceded by an impassioned speech from Manly High student Stephanie Evans, 16, who earlier in the evening appealed to councillors to pay attention to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC reported last year that the world has only 11 years to keep global warming below the critical 1.5 degrees Celsius by reducing fossil fuel burning.

“Kids not only want but need you to support our future,” she told the meeting.

“… The anxiety of our generation over this issue is spiralling.”

In the face of opposition from Liberal Party Councillors Pat Daley (Manly) and Rory Amon (Narrabeen) Deputy Mayor Sue Heins explained the relevance of the declaration to the local council.

Ms Heins said that she is on council flooding and bushfire committees where she deals with climate change – and new bushfire maps were the agenda for last night’s meeting.

“The reality is that the bushfire off-season is now down to two weeks,” she said.

With the passage of the vote, the council chamber erupted into applause.

Another motion supporting initiatives to encourage the uptake of solar by the community also gained support of all councillors - except Mr Daley.

The Greens’ Ms Warren, again introducing the motion, said uptake of solar on the northern beaches is only 12 per cent and the initiative aims to raise that to 50 per cent of appropriate roofs by 2040.

Strategies to achieve this include providing simple, clear information about solar and planning requirements on the council website as well as exploration of innovative funding models.

Environmental credentials were further boosted when Mr Daley failed to secure a seconder for his motion calling for a debate on nuclear energy.

However, when it came to the vote on the dog trial at Station Beach – on the Pittwater side of the Palm Beach sand spit – councillors ironically voted against the science.

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association president Marita Macrae spoke up for biodiversity and the huge challenge of keeping dogs off the vulnerable sea grass beds at low tide.

She listed many problems with the trial, including the sensitivity to disturbance of sea grass beds growing close to the shore. In fact, she said the council’s own Pittwater waterways policy undertakes to protect sea grass and the NSW Fisheries wants the trial moved to another beach.

Sue Heins and Natalie Warren were the only two councillors to recognise the significance of the sea grass beds and vote against the trial. (Sea grasses, salt marshes and mangroves absorb up to 10 times more CO2 than forests).

Councillor Sue Heins noted that the NSW fisheries authority and other experts had already flagged issues with the area for the proposed trial at Station Beach.

"As much as we love our dogs, we also love our environment." Cr. Heins said.

"... I really feel strongly that we need to absolutely look after every environmentally sensitive area that we have.''

"I don't know much about sea beds, but if I'm told that this is a special group of meadows that we should protect, then I do feel we should be protecting them."  

However, all other councillors - including all three from Pittwater ward - supported the trial. 

The final determination will be made by the next council after the September election next year.

Councillor McTaggart said he supported the trial because it will have short hours of operation (4.30pm - 10.30am - from afternoon, all night and into mid morning - placing all wildlife at peril for 18 hours every single day), has involved a consultative process (where council's own data (page 157) shows the bulk of respondents came from outside the trial area and even outside the council area and they are looking forward to bringing their dogs from all parts of the north shore and greater Sydney to Palm Beach) and was touted as having the support of local residents in the Palm Beach and Whale Beach Association (whose membership has, in fact, almost halved following the one new committee members push to support this trial and doing so without consulting the formerly, larger, membership) and despite that residents association reason for existing, stated in its constitution, being to protect Palm Beach.

A new residents group, the aptly named Protect Palm Beach, has sprung up since the PBWBA 'speaking for all' support letter, and gains new members each day from the thousands of other Palm Beach-Whale Beach residents.

Mr. McTaggart was touted as the person to vote for to facilitate their aims at the first council elections for the forcibly amalgamated council by dog lobbyists. As there will be another round of council elections in 2020, those who have opposed the ruining of this beach and its excise from all others have pointed to this as a factor in the resulting vote this week.

The Liberal Party's Kylie Ferguson also said there were no impediments to the trial proceeding – apart from the 31 mitigation measures required by two NSW Departments, that of Primary Industries – Fisheries and NSW Department of Industry – and Lands and Water, as per the Review of Environmental Factors which lists these and then opines 'mitigation measures' so the document shifts from being purely an REF to being a document written to progress all it warns against and points out - in black and white.

Ian White, another Pittwater councillor, also supported the trial although he acknowledged that lots of people will no longer go to Station Beach once dogs are allowed there. This will include the wildlife that currently frequents the area that will be chased out (despite this being against the law), families with young children who could formerly safely play there and the millions of tourists who will review the state of Palm Beach post-dogs being officially allowed there, and let that be known far and wide as well as internationally.

Unfortunately, this council has missed an opportunity to lead the public on this issue. Just as with climate change, the opinion of experts should trump other considerations, not to mention the cost of mitigation measures to protect the sea grass (some estimates place this at as least $50,000 for a few buoys with $40,000 being listed as the cost of the 'REF'). Council staff to patrol the whole length of the beach will also need to be installed permanently as the REF did point out that the 'no dogs' signs were being ignored and one dog was photographed defecating in the seagrass beds as an instance of what was already happening.

Although, as dogs are still taken daily into Careel Bay Wildlife Protection area, and no council staff are ever in sight - what has happened and continues to happen there will occur at Station Beach. Rangers handing out parking fines are thick on the ground - rangers curtailing dogs in no dog areas are scarce.

The dog defecating image in the REF also would point to any post -'trial' result already being tainted by what has preceded it.

Given dog attacks are now reported daily to this news service, with some resulting in deaths of other dogs, culpability when the first dog attack happens on Station Beach is also among the measures this council must now consider in its budgets, especially if it is an attack on a tourist.

Also disappointing is that the three councillors voted in to look after Pittwater's interests are in fact working against Pittwater's long held passion for the environment and the wildlife that lives in it. However, these same three councillors who voted against fighting to save Pittwater Council in a hastily convened meeting when the bulk of those who had voted for Pittwater were known to be out of the area.

Those councils that did fight to retain their independence, and autonomy and democracy, won. Pittwater never had that chance due to this kind of 'representation'.

A sacked by the forced council amalgamations former Pittwater Councillor, Sue Young, spoke to Pittwater Online this week about the decision:

"I am extremely disappointed with the vote at last Tuesdays Council meeting to proceed with the a trial to allow off-leash dogs on Station Beach due to the environmental sensitivity of the area." former Cr. Young said.

"The trial is inconsistent with the Council's recently adopted Pittwater Waterway Strategy 2038 objective to “Protect, promote and celebrate the unique and valuable natural environment of Pittwater including its extensive ecological diversity and renowned scenic amenity” including to “Investigate with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI Fisheries) establishing a ‘no- go’ zone protecting endangered seagrass habitats within the study area”. 

The DPI Fisheries in an August letter to Council acknowledged "The ecological importance of seagrass beds and the endangered status of Posidonia australis."  Commenting that one square metre of seagrass can produce one tonne of fish per year.

This week scientists from the University of Wollongong were recognised for their research into blue carbon and awarded an Australian Museum Eureka Prize for science. Blue carbon is carbon captured and stored by oceans and coastal ecosystems including seagrasses, mangroves and salt marshes. 

It is our responsibility to protect the environment for future generations."

The former councillors statement has been echoed by others this week, pointing out that ''the process was back the front from the outset with no REF in place prior to consultation opening and that presented after that had closed pointing out this will be the death of this beach.''

The symbolic band wagon jumping on regarding climate change is cancelled out by factual and actual on purpose destruction of the environment and the fauna that lives here - and equates to a big fail.

This is a clear case of what happens when you have people living outside of Pittwater deciding Pittwater's fate and those voted in to look after Pittwater's interest continuing their track record of voting against Pittwater.

During a week when yet more dog attacks on little penguins are being reported elsewhere the decision lends a clear insight into the priorities of those at present overseeing Pittwater and sends a great message to all outside Pittwater for the first week of Spring 2019;

''Welcome to Dog faeces, wildlife killing and habitat destruction Beach.....'' - formerly 'Palm Beach'.

June 2019: dog in northern end of Station Beach having a ball thrown into the water for it, at low tide, by its owner (a no dogs area then) - the clearly stated intention of the dog lobbyists is to access Barrenjoey National Park, an agenda this council as now enabled.