The Forestry Corporation of NSW has been fined $30,000 for allegedly breaching their environment protection licence and causing water pollution during harvesting operations at Gladstone State Forest during March 2018.
Following reports from the North East Forest Alliance and the Bellingen Environment Centre about water pollution in the forest, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) inspected the area on March 9.
The corporation was fined $15,000 for failing to carry out a licence condition which required certain road and drainage structures to be constructed and maintained to control erosion and sediment.
It was also fined $15,000 for pollution of waters of a major stream at a road crossing. Sediment-laden runoff from inadequately-drained harvesting roads impacted the waterway during heavy rain in early March 2018.
EPA’s Director Forestry Michael Hood thanked community members who raised concerns.
“Reports like this are an essential part of the EPA process, allowing us to investigate and take action if an issue is discovered,” Mr Hood said.
“We impose licence conditions to protect forests and vulnerable species. Forestry Corporation were aware that their roads needed maintenance work but delayed acting for over 21 days until directed by the EPA following significant rainfall.
“By not operating in a proper and efficient manner, the Forestry Corporation breached their environment protection licence and caused unnecessary pollution, which is why the EPA acted.”
However, Ashley Love from the Bellingen Environment Centre pointed out that each of the inspections undertaken by community members involved entering a closed forest, risking a $2000 fine, to obtain evidence.
“Forestry Corporation drove over the inadequately-drained harvesting roads on a daily basis for months and the EPA used the same roads on their audit inspections without seeing any breaches or requiring any repairs,” he said.
It wasn’t until community members took footage of extreme erosion occurring during a rainstorm and sent that footage to the EPA’s pollution watch that some action was finally taken.Ashley Love
“The EPA have also advised today that they are continuing to investigate the range of other matters raised by community members over logging in Gladstone State Forest,” Ashley said. “Some of the reports were submitted over 12 months ago.”
The polluted waters are habitat to the endangered Giant Barred Frog. Direct threats to this species include reduction in water quality or alterations to flow patterns with embryos and tadpoles being vulnerable to siltation. Inadequate protection of riparian habitat during forestry activities is also a threat. The waterway is also habitat for the endangered fish Purple Spotted Gudgeon.
The EPA had previously inspected the area in June 2017 and warned Forestry Corporation about water pollution risks at drainage feature crossings and the need to implement site-specific conditions in accordance with the environment protection licence.
Forestry Corporation has since completed works to improve the performance of road drainage features on key roads near water crossings in the state forest, and has committed to maintaining adequate road drainage features on roads in the state forest.
Penalty notices are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions. For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/prosguid.htm