BRIDGE OVER THE DAINTREE / Lowest cost option will clear endangered forests


The Douglas Shire Council’s ‘Daintree River Crossing – Options Assessment Report’  gives the costs of the four bridge options as between $53 and $75 million with the average of $60 million compared to the two-ferry option of $2.8 million. The two lowest cost bridge options require the clearing of endangered forest types. It is highly unlikely that permits would be issued to clear this endangered vegetation when there are other options.

The Council report is misleading about this critical environmental issue when it states there is no need for special environmental permits. The clearing of listed endangered habitats require special permits that are rarely issued these days.

The Bridge at Martinelli Road

Martinelli Road passes through a unique wetland that is listed as an endangered habitat. This wetland contains the only stand of Melaleuca cajuputi subsp. platyphylla in the Wet Tropics bio region. Melaleuca cajuputi subsp. platyphylla only occurs from New Guinea to Cape York, with a few isolated trees found as far south as near Cairns. The Daintree population is the most southern stand in the world, and is in a degraded condition because of para grass, molasses grass and hymenachne, the construction of dirt roads through it, as well as artificial and impeded drainage. The wetland also contains two waterlily species that some botanist believe are new undescribed species. These waterlilies are examples of the first primitive flowering plants and are now smothered by the exotic grass species.

Constructing a high-traffic volume, two-lane road through this unique and threatened wetland will require widening and raising the current narrow dirt road. This will result in clearing many of the  unique melaleuca trees causing further degradation of the only example of this habitat in the Wet Tropics. Rather, the Council should be working in partnership with the land owners on a voluntary agreement to regenerate this precious and unique wetland ecosystem, than further degenerating it.

As well as damaging the Melaleuca cajuputi subsp. platyphylla wetlands, the bridge will require the removal of highly diverse riparian (river edge) forests on both sides of the river as can be seen in the satellite image below. The riparian forest on the south bank is listed as endangered habitat.
The environmental damage alone should be enough of reason for never constructing a bridge and road along Martinelli Road.

Bridge Adjacent to 2874 Mossman Daintree Road

The bridge at 2874 Mossman – Daintree road requires the clearing of endangered riparian habitat on
 both sides of the river. The map below shows the endangered habitat in red.

The bridge will require the removal of 20 metres tall, highly diverse riparian forests on both sides of the river, as can bee seen in the picture below. It should be opposed for this reason alone.

Multiple Permits will be Needed

Permits will be required from multiple State and Federal agencies,. Given these endangered habitats are in the Daintree Wet Tropics region, numerous stakeholders such as residents, researchers, universities, and environmental organisations, will let the State and Federal Governments and their respective agencies know that there is massive opposition to granting permits to clear these irreplaceable habitats. It is highly unlikely any permit will be granted for these options, given that there are alternatives that do not require the clearing of valuable endangered habitat.

Cost Burden for Residents, Ratepayers and Businesses

Without permits for the lowest cost bridge options, the Council would need to raise funding for the  higher cost bridges that they estimate would cost $75 million.

Douglas Shire Council states that they expect the bridge to be fully funded by the State and Federal Governments. These governments usually require a 50% contribution from a Council for these types of infrastructure projects. This would be a $35 million debt on residents, ratepayers and businesses of the Douglas Shire. This is the last thing we can afford as Council finished the financial year with a $828,353 deficit, down from the projected $86,915 surplus, in part because of a loss of revenue from the Ferry.

An even larger deficit is planned for this current financial year, so it looks like the Council is rapidly going into debt in this unprecedented economic crisis. This is not the time to take on more debt, especially what could be the largest debt in the history of the Douglas Shire.

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