DR STEVE TURTON DFIAG, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Geography, Central Queensland University and University of the Sunshine Coast
Why the Daintree River crossing options must consider cumulative impacts.
In an earlier article in DouglasNews.Network I drew attention to the threats to World Heritage status of the Daintree Coast that would inevitably follow should a bridge be built over the Daintree River. This was in response to a firm indication by newly-elected Douglas Shire Council Mayor Michael Kerr that he wanted to re-visit various river crossing options for the Daintree River, for residents and businesses on the Daintree Coast and further north to Cooktown.
In my original article, I argued that “a bridge over the Daintree River will be the beginning of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ for the Daintree rainforest, and may well be the catalyst for UNESCO to place the entire Wet Tropics of Queensland on the World Heritage in-Danger list.”
In light of the recent release of ‘Daintree River Crossing Options Assessment Report’ by Douglas Shire Council, this provides an opportunity to re-examine the environmental impacts of the four crossing options (including the existing single ferry), but to do so with consideration of ‘cumulative impacts’ and how these might all align with a ‘strategic environmental assessment’ (SEA) framework.
The first consideration is to examine the four options within a Strategic Environmental Assessment framework (SEA).
‘SEA is a systematic decision support process, aiming to ensure that environmental and possibly other sustainability aspects are considered effectively in policy, plan and program making’.
This means the four crossing options must be examined from the perspective of the entire Shire, its existing planning schemes and its community values, as well as considering matters of national environmental significance and maintenance of World Heritage values to the north of the river.
Which option best aligns with the local and Indigenous communities’ future aspirations for the Shire?
Which option best aligns with maintenance of ‘outstanding universal value’ of World Heritage to ‘protect, conserve, present and transmit to future generations’?
The second consideration is the ‘cumulative impacts’ of the four river crossing options.
Cumulative impact assessment aims to consider the ‘effects of multiple actions or impacts on the environment’, including those beyond the particular river crossing point itself. Impact is a ‘neutral’ term and therefore includes positive and negative impacts on the environment, but social and economic impacts should also be included in any cumulative impact assessments.
This issue is way more than just about taking vehicles and people from one side of the river to the other, whether we are talking about the same location or elsewhere on the river.
The adoption of a SEA framework and consideration of ‘cumulative impacts’ of the four river crossing options will bring credibility and rigour to the community consultation and Council decision-making processes.
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