Dried up local creeks, ecological destruction, disturbance of toxic sludge and six years of high impact construction noise were just some the major concerns addressed during a community webinar looking at the impacts of the Beaches Link Tunnel, a forum held recently ahead of the submission cut off date, which was 1 March.
The purpose of the seminar, which was chaired by Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham who said she was acting as a private citizen and not as a council representative, was to “help residents understand how the Beaches Link Tunnel affects them.” The webinar examines concerns raised in the Environmental Impact Statement or EIS for the project.
NOTE: This was republished 20 March, updated on 4 March and originally appeared on 28 February.
What is the Beaches Link?
The Beaches Link, also known as the Northern Beaches Tunnel, is scheduled to start in 2023 and be completed by 2028. It will have two portals (entries/exits) – one in Balgowlah and one in Seaforth – taking vehicles through 7kms of tunnels under Middle Harbour and the lower North Shore, connecting with the Warringah Freeway in Cammeray.
The project documents all allude to it being a tolled road, with users paying for the benefit of skipping notorious congestion points along the Spit and Military Road and forecasted time savings of up to an hour for the Dee Why to Airport commute. For a broader look at the project and expected commuter benefits, see our this article on the topic.
You can view our previous breakdown on what an EIS is and project basics here.
HAVE YOU JUST SCROLLED DOWN QUICKLY AND REALISED THAT THIS IS A LONG AND COMPLICATED STORY AND YOU JUST WANT SOMEONE TO TELL YOU THE ABSOLUTE BASICS IN A TOO LONG DIDN’T READ (TLDR)? YOU’RE IN LUCK, VISIT THIS LINK.
Balgowlah resident Terry le Roux, who has held positions in Balgowlah resident groups for a decade, also coordinated much of the webinar.
The webinar covered a broad range of concerns ranging from short term construction noise and traffic impacts to longer term issues concerning ecological damage to Burnt Bridge Creek and Manly Dam, unfiltered smokestacks and risks associated with disturbing contaminated sediment in Middle Harbour.
You can view the webinar in its entirety here: https://youtu.be/v9phD238Xd4
Project team answers community questions
A community information briefing was also held recently (February 10) online with Beaches Link Tunnel project experts. These experts allayed, explained or downplayed many of the above concerns. In some cases there seemed solid data to back up what they were saying [our opinion], such as “silt curtains” to minimise the disruption of toxic sludge in the harbour, or this letter from NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant, who concluded the “contribution of tunnel ventilation stacks remains relatively small compared to the contribution of emissions form traffic on surface road and other background sources.”
Air quality expert Andrew Mattes claimed that the benefit from filtration was “not nothing but it’s very small amount for a very significant amount of money.”
You can still view a full air pollution briefing here, and briefings held across all affected suburbs on all tunnel issues here: https://caportal.com.au/rms/bl/virtual-information-sessions
Ed note: Having listened to several hours across many webinars it is, frankly, quite difficult to ascertain which issues are potential but unlikely catastrophes and which are very probable ecological disasters. It becomes diagram versus diagram, leaving the lay observer a little confused over what to really focus on.
A spokesperson for the Balgowlah Residents Group (and admin for Facebook groups criticising the tunnel), Nerissa Levy, said it’s simple: the project itself should be called into question.
“Everybody wants better transport on the beaches, but it’s really just not justified at this price,” she said. Nerissa said ultimately the only winners were likely to be those travelling along Military Road with a 10 per cent reduction in traffic time. “You’ve got to ask, when the gains are so small, is spending 10 to 12 billion on this tunnel really worth it?”
Nerissa also discussed impacts from the main construction zone at the current Balgowlah golf course site (soon to be construction site), and several residents expressed concern over parking issues over the six year construction period.
Nerissa pointed to graphs showing that noise impacts from Balgowlah roadworks is likely to affect over 4,000 homes (sound of loud TV or greater), about 1,000 at the Balgowlah construction site and another 1,000 around Middle Harbour. About 1,000 homes are likely to experience sleep disturbance from the Balgowlah roadworks.
“The big impacts from construction will be the noise… Many thousands of people will be affected.”
Terry Le Roux urged residents to make a submission before it closed on Monday, expressing concerns that the government was rushing through a decision to proceed with a design that has: “big risks for the environment, marginal benefits in traffic reduction along Military Road, a big increase in congestion in Manly Vale and Balgowlah, and will massively increase traffic coming to the Northern Beaches in summer months.”
Creek to reduce to a trickle
One particular issue that does not seem to have been satisfactorily addressed from Transport’s comms is the long-term environmental damage caused by widening of the Wakehurst Parkway and potential risks to groundwater and flow on effects down to Manly Dam, as well as perhaps irreparable damage to the bush corridor of Burnt Bridge Creek.
Local resident and Co Author of ABC’s War on Waste Impact Report and Quitting Plastic, Louise Williams, highlighted her concerns for Burnt Bridge Creek in particular, with construction impacts to include removal of large mature trees and habitat, removal of nearby water retention dam (a source for endangered species), and “Discharge of almost half a million litres a day of wastewater that will run into Queenscliff Lagoon.”
There is also an estimated reduction of base flow from the creek of 79%, she said. “What that means is a reduction of water flowing down the creek during construction, which will essentially reduce the creek to a trickle.” During the operational phase it says an expected 96 per cent reduction (over 100 years) is modelled: “This basically means there will be no more creek. It will become a drain and will no longer offer water to our species and the [flora] will change.”
The EIS makes this statement about the risk to biodiversity:
“Reductions to baseflows during operation could be considered significant, in particular for Burnt Bridge Creek and Quarry Creek. However, they are unlikely to result in a complete loss of aquatic habitat. Pools would be retained in these waterways and there would still be high flows immediately after rainfall events. Between rainfall events there would still be some (low) flow along the waterways.
“Outside of the pool areas, substantially reduced flows between rainfall events would be expected to alter assemblages of freshwater biota in these creeks to generally include only those species that are most tolerant to low flows.”
We asked the Transport team about concerns over the effects on Burnt Bridge Creek and were given the following response by a spokesperson:
“The groundwater drawdown modelled and presented in the EIS is a worst case scenario.
As more information becomes available, the groundwater modelling will be updated to ensure acceptable environmental outcomes.
The construction contractor will obtain and abide by an Environment Protection Licence issued by the Environment Protection Authority and will report regularly on compliance with water quality criteria.
We recognise the significance of Burnt Bridge Creek to the local community and will continue to keep residents informed as we refine and enhance our project design to ensure acceptable environmental outcomes.”
Balgowlah resident and Northern Beaches councillor Sarah Grattan said the council had worked very hard across all departments drilling into the EIS to identify the impacts over the holidays.
“The staff are taking this very very seriously. It’s the biggest infrastructure project ever for the Northern Beaches and so it should be taken very seriously,” she said.
Council’s submission had identified some concerns over water seeping issues and catchment cross-contamination and the issue of rat runs caused by the new traffic arrangements. “It’s a big gap in the EIS,” Cr Grattan said.
Council’s official position is to support the Beaches Link tunnel subject to minimising impacts on the local community.
A motion by Cr Grattan and seconded by Cr Bingham was unanimously passed last week to request a one month extension to the submissions process to allow stakeholders including schools and community groups to probably digest and respond to the extensive and detailed document. It is unlikely to succeed.
You can view Council’s draft submission on page 531 of attachment booklet 2 viewable here.
The amendments voted on by Council last Tuesday addressing a number of other concerns, including request of an fauna overpass over the Wakehurst Parkway will be available in the minutes soon, and uploaded here.
Cr Bingham said it was important to note that “there are some good parts to this project, we aren’t bagging the whole thing, what we are saying is that there are some areas that we are concerned about that we need to consider in more detail.”
If you want to consider everything in more detail visit here: https://www.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/major-projects/project/10456
If you would like to know to read about the expected benefits from the tunnel espoused by government, read our previous announcement article here.
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