Chipmill's timber hub DA gets approved for a second time

Aerial view of the Eden chipmill at Edrom Road where the timber hub will be built.
Aerial view of the Eden chipmill at Edrom Road where the timber hub will be built.

Work on a $14.5m timber hub at the Eden chipmill will go ahead after the DA was resubmitted to council.

It follows a legal challenge by South East Forest Rescue that successfully found the DA had not been lawfully determined.

As a result full council had to reconsider the DA, rather than it being decided by staff, by September 15.

In an extra-ordinary meeting on Tuesday, September 14, council voted 4-3 in favour of the DA which is for the construction and operation of a log sorter, sawmill, pallet plant, briquette plant and repurposing of the existing water treatment thickener tank.

Prior to the meeting councillors heard from Dr Frances Perkins of the National Trust, South East region, Harriet Swift from South East Region Conservation Alliance and Lisa Stone of South East Forest Rescue.

Their main points centred around the environmental impacts of the timber hub, and logging generally as well as pointing to council's own climate resilience strategy. But council staff said determining the DA was just that and couldn't take into account other issues around the industry.

Dr Perkins said there were "shortcomings" in the environmental impact statement. Dr Perkins also pointed to the Environmental Defenders Office legal challenge to North East NSW logging operations which she said could potentially close the chipmill.

In answer to questions, Dr Perkins said that carbon capture in native forests would produce more jobs and more money based on the current price of $80 a tonne for carbon, than chipmill operations.

Ms Swift said the DA played an important role because "the right to use sawlogs is dependent on getting this DA".

"This decision is the key decision that has a domino effect," Ms Swift said.

"There were more than 150 public submissions opposing the DA for the new mill, and only one supporting it, Ms Swift also said.

Cr Cathy Griff said councillors were being advised that logging was not relevant to the discussion around the DA.

However Ms Stone said the whole production process had to be accounted for, adding that the impact of the proposal had to be taken into account. She said when you make cheese, you couldn't discount the milk and where it came from.

All the speakers referenced the bushfires, and council's own climate resilience strategy. However when the matter was brought to council for determination, council's director community, environment and planning, Dr Alice Howe, said the DA did not deal with harvesting or seek to change the volume of timber through the site.

In a reference to the process issue of how the DA was originally approved, Cr Griff said she had tried to get the DA before council a year ago and that she understood a review of how DAs were handled would be brought before council in the next term of council. Dr Howe said that the issues had been taken on notice and would be brought before the next term of council for review.

The timber hub DA was originally submitted to council in March 2020. The application was publicly advertised and notified to adjoining landowners. External referral and approval agencies were also consulted.

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General terms of approval were issued by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) on July 3, 2020 and on September 4, 2020 determination of the application was made under staff delegation and a Notice of Determination was issued on September 14, 2020.

In December 2020 a Class 4 Judicial Review appeal was lodged in the NSW Land and Environment Court of NSW by South East Forest Rescue and on August 24, 2021, Judge Robson of the Land and Environment Court of NSW ruled that the development consent was "invalid, void and of no force and effect". The effect of this ruling meant that the DA was not lawfully determined.

Crs Fitzpatrick, Allen, Bain and Nadin voted for the DA while Crs Griff, Dodds and Seckold voted against.

This story Chipmill's timber hub DA gets approved for a second time first appeared on Merimbula News Weekly.