One of the most pristine national parks on the Far South Coast is facing the threat of commercialisation and privatisation says a community action group.
The Ben Boyd - Light to Light Walk - Community Action Group (BBLLAG) was established to share information and coordinate efforts to protest against proposed commercial developments within the national park after a draft amendment to the Ben Boyd National Park and Bell Bird Creek Nature Reserve Plan of Management and Draft Light to Light Walk Strategy was released to the public in 2019.
However, the group claims that despite numerous submissions on the draft and no responses forthcoming, survey work appears to be going ahead already, with pegs and pink tape spotted in the national park south of Eden.
The group also claimed an environmental impact statement and Indigenous heritage permits have not been released for public consultation.
A spokesperson for the group said the public were given six weeks to respond when NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) put the Light to Light draft strategy out in 2019, at which time the action group and other key stakeholders and members of the community put together 205 submissions.
"We have had no response to our submissions at all since then and have not received any information - except those on the mailing list got an update after fires severely affected Ben Boyd National Park that the development was still going ahead," the spokesperson told Australian Community Media.
"Parks have stated they need to develop reports in response to the submissions and release these for public exhibition, yet the project appears to be going ahead regardless.
"It is very unclear where the process is now on paper, but a week ago I saw pink tape and survey pegs on a site slated for development," they said.
The spokesperson believes the pegs and tape seen at Mowarry Point are marking out sites identified by NPWS in the draft strategy as a location for new eco-style accommodation.
Hegartys Bay has also been slated for eco-style accommodation, with both sites planned to consist of hut and tented accommodation to cater for 36 walkers, a communal kitchen and dining area, toilets, staff accommodation and a helipad
The Draft Light to Light Walk Strategy states, "Pack camping and other informal camping, i.e. camping at sites where there are no facilities, will no longer be permitted on the Light to Light Walk. This includes pack camping at Leather Jacket Bay, Mowarry Point and Hegartys Bay."
The BBLLAG spokesperson said NPWS documentation suggests the walk has the potential to become a "Great Walk of Australia".
"This would grant exclusive rights for a private tour operator to provide a luxury experience, including guides and high quality private accommodation at a cost of upwards of $400 per night," they said.
"They're clearly targeting elite high-paying customers and locking out everyday people who can currently bush camp in the national park for free," they said.
"It's got people really annoyed, this is part of a nationwide push for commercial and privately run eco-tourism developments within Australia's national parks.
"An environment impact assessment including a review of environmental factors has been ongoing for over 18 months and remains incomplete. It would be reasonable to assume that such an assessment should have been completed in mid-2019 before the public was asked to review the plan of management and draft strategy.
"They have given no timeline for the required steps in the approval process including an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit and there has been no amendment to the NPWS management plan for the walk.
"From what I understand there hasn't been any socio-economic impact assessment done to show it will bring added value in terms of jobs, tourism and money to the area. In fact, the development may deter current users of the national park from visiting the area.
"There's been a real lack of communication, almost to the point it seems purposeful," the spokesperson claimed.
A NPWS spokesperson confirmed to ACM the first stages of construction are expected to start in 2021 and to be completed by late 2022.
They said the NSW government is reviewing the draft amendments to the Ben Boyd National Park plan of management for the redeveloped Light to Light Walk, including public submissions received during community consultation.
"An environmental and cultural heritage assessment is also being completed, to ensure that any proposed works minimise environmental impacts. The report will go on public exhibition for comment once completed," the NPWS spokesperson said.
That news was cold comfort for the community action group.
"Hegartys Bay is supposedly closed due to bushfire recovery, we have had no communication about when that's going to reopen and I have a feeling they are going to just keep it closed and go ahead with developments," the spokesperson said.
"It plants enough doubt that it is the commercialisation and privatisation of national parks."