By Kath Gannaway
MELBOURNE environment group Friends of the Earth (FOE) has vowed to continue its action against the North-South Pipeline, despite five of its members being arrested on Thursday.
FOE spokesman Cam Walker and four other activists were charged with obstruction under the Water Act when they went onto the work site in the Toolangi State Forest.
Mr Walker said the members had no regrets and felt they had achieved their aim.
“We set out to do three things: highlight the ecological impacts of the pipeline as it comes through the Toolangi forest, offer support and solidarity to rural communities and call for wiser water policies from the government,” he said.
Mr Walker said the raising awareness about the impact in the environment was a primary concern.
“There is a growing awareness of the impacts of the pipeline on the river systems that flow into the Murray, and the impacts on rural communities along the pipe route,” he said.
“But little is understood about the major ecological footprint of the pipeline project.”
He said the route through the Toolangi State Forest was devastating.
“Commercial loggers would not be allowed to trash Special Protection Zones, zones created because of their special ecological values, yet these areas are being devastated for the pipeline,” he said.
“Friends of the Earth recognise that Melbourne needs new sources of water, but we believe that there are many better options than the pipeline, or the extremely expensive desalination plant (in Wonthaggi),” he said.
The Sugarloaf Pipeline Alliance also continues its stand – defending the project itself and the stating that the environmental approval process has been stringent and balanced.
“Most of the pipeline is being buried under paddocks and along roadsides, but a section has to pass through the Toolangi State Forest,” project manager Rob Cranston said.
Mr Cranston said the alliance’s approach to the 11-kilometre section through the forest achieved a balance between protecting vegetation and delivering the infrastructure.
“We’ve deliberately kept the construction corridor as narrow as possible through the forest, and, where we can, we’ve directed it towards areas that have already been thinned,” he said.
He said the alliance would revegetate most of the 30-metre-wide construction corridor, including using tree ferns salvaged during the clearing works, and with an offset of 826 hectares of bushland bought near Mount Buller.
• In The Mail’s report last week on farmer Don Lawson’s legal battle with the Sugarloaf Alliance, The Mail identified the owner of the property concerned as Russell Muller, a dissatisfied land-owner.
Mr Muller is the owner of farmland at Glenburn affected by pipeline. The alliance says he is not the owner of the land on which Mr Lawson issued legal papers to alliance workers.
Although the alliance cannot divulge the name of the property owner because of privacy issues, its spokesman, Andrew McGinnes, confirmed this week that the alliance has “a positive working relationship with the landowner and leasee who understand our need to enter the property and do this work”.