Eden pellet plant still in limbo

A DECISION to defer ruling on the Eden wood pellet plant was met with applause from the large gallery in attendance at Tuesday’s council meeting.

It was standing room only as Eden’s controversial fuel pellet project again came before the council, after its approval was ruled invalid by the Land and Environment Court in December.

The court found the Bega Valley Shire Council failed to consider public submissions, principles of ecologically sustainable development and the zoning of the land when granting approval for the plant, operated by South East Fibre Exports (SEFE).

At the time, the ruling was welcomed by environmental groups, several of which were represented at Tuesday’s council meeting where the DA – with a number of added conditions - was to be considered again.

Lisa Stone, of the South East Forest Rescue group (SEFR), implored councillors to “delay the decision to carefully consider the ramifications” of the pellet mill, while Chris Kowal asked “are we serving our natural resource base and our communities to their best advantage?”

Bronte Somerset, of the South East Regional Conservation Alliance, was roundly cheered when she stated “any endeavour that goes against principles of ESD (Ecologically Sustainable Development) should not be approved”, while local activist Harriet Swift highlighted the lack of available information about the pilot plant’s noise levels and emissions.

“We still have no idea what the noise levels and emissions will be,” Ms Swift said.

“I know environmental impact goes way beyond those localised effects...but they are important - and we don’t have that information.”

Shouts of “shame” from the packed gallery greeted Cr David Hede’s motion to immediately debate and resolve the issue, with only councillors Keith Hughes and Liz Seckold voting against.

During the resulting debate, Cr Hughes advised a more considered approach and moved to defer any action on the mill until reports into the noise and emissions could be digested.

He was supported by Cr Graeme Wykes, who said, if such reports could be made available, “it is incumbent on us to consider them”.

The council’s manager of planning and services, Keith Tull, said he had not had any official word from the Office of Environment and Heritage about the results of emissions testing and could not give councillors a timeframe on when such reports might be available.

Subsequently, councillors Pat Campbell and Michael Britten also spoke in favour of the motion to defer a decision.

“Given the history of the matter...on reflection I will support the motion (to defer),” Cr Campbell said.

Councillors Russell Fitzpatrick and Hede voted against the motion, which was passed 6-2.

“I am very grateful for the mature attitude displayed by councillors and hope they will take the additional time to seriously consider the implications of this important project, which has significance way beyond the Bega Valley Shire,” Ms Swift said after the meeting.

“Burning native forests for electricity or using them for wood pellets to burn in power stations is one of the greatest threats to the forests of the world,” Ms Stone said.