A planned eco-style development within Ben Boyd National Park is angering community members, with the commercial model initiated by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) seen as a threat by many to the pristine taxpayer-funded park near Eden on the Far South Coast of NSW.
Public rejection of the proposal has been evidenced in responses to the Review of Environmental Factors (REF), with 105 objections and 24 suggesting further consideration of the development was required.
Only eight out of 142 responses suggested overall support of the project.
National Parks Association (NPA) member Di Thompson said it mattered little to NPWS, if at all, how many submissions against any project were received, as they were ignored.
"So many submissions against proposals are prepared by individuals and groups who know a lot about a particular area, its environment, have visited for decades, and are scientifically based," Ms Thompson said.
"Those out there in the public that do care are left grieving, and still fighting to save even remnants from these blatant decisions and the aggressive manner they are imposed upon us..."
NPWS confirmed more than 130 submissions on the REF had been received and said a submissions report would be published on its website in the coming weeks.
Jenny Robb, owner of Light to Light Transfers, said while she was not completely against having accommodation built in the park, the planning doesn't seem to have taken everyone into consideration.
"I'm all for opening up opportunities for others to walk the track, but at least 80 per cent of people we transfer don't see the need for the development and are disappointed by how it impacts the walk right now and until the project is complete," Ms Robb said.
"They seem so gung-ho about this development and hell bent on the huts, many are wondering why."
Ms Robb said building the planned development at Mowarry Point would "ruin an amazing place".
"They just don't seem to be listening," Ms Robb said.
"I'm personally upset about where they plan to build the huts. There were plenty of other options that wouldn't have detracted from it being a wilderness walking and camping experience."
The beach at Mowarry Point behind which the proposed eco-tourism development is slated to take place. Photo: Ben Boyd Light to Light Action Group.
The development effectively locks walk-in and bush campers out of Hegarty's Bay, meaning an over 20km hike from Mowarry to Green Cape, especially as there are plans to close Bittangabee for major works from April to June this year.
Hegarty's Bay has been closed for more than 12 months with NPWS citing "fire damage and rehabilitation works".
NPWS said a new walkers camp at Bittangabee Bay would be developed in lieu of the campground being closed at Hegarty's Bay for the proposed construction of huts.
"The walking distance between Mowarry and Bittangabee Bay is approximately 14 kilometres. The distance is suitable given the terrain of the coastline is relatively flat," the spokesperson said.
Bittangabee Bay campground will be closed for major works from April to June, with a new walkers camp being developed. Photo: Leah Szanto
Ms Robb had hopes National Parks would just install a toilet and water tank at Hegarty's Bay so it could remain a quiet campsite.
"There's a whole bunch of people keen to get out a tent and go walking now that lockdowns are over so this greatly impacts their plans right now," Ms Robb said.
David Gallan, president of the Far South Coast branch of National Parks Association (FSCNPA) said there were immense pressures on coastal parks on the east coast.
"To have a largely unspoilt coastal landscape intact is precious," Mr Gallan said.
FSCNPA said it and the wider membership of NPA had "very deep concerns about the trend to open up Australia's national parks to commercialised activities and new accommodation buildings".
Speaking with ACM, Mr Gallan said there was a very strong response against the building of structures in Ben Boyd.
"We are working with parks to try and minimise the impact of this development - even in the face of its overwhelming rejection by the community," he said.
Eric Wolske, Eden Chamber of Commerce president, strongly felt that a resort style development was not warranted, particularly when there were enormous community housing issues in the region not being addressed and in need of funding.
"The proposed development is costly - walkers would generally want somewhere to pitch a tent," Mr Wolske said.
"Why not use the facilities and infrastructure already in the vicinity for more upmarket accommodation? Development is one thing, but this is a national park, it should be there for everyone, not just a select group of people."
"How much of the park are they going to destroy in order to facilitate this?" Mr Wolske said.
Broken down, the responses to the REF were from 131 individuals, six community organisations and three government agencies.
Key themes raised in submissions included:
- Misleading sustainability claims and resulting impact on the environment;
- Commercial operations not being NPWS core business;
- Increased visitor numbers would detract from experience and exceed capacity of park;
- Equity of the proposal and high costs;
- Increased pressure on bushfire impacted environment;
- Change of the park's character;
- Aboriginal and historic cultural heritage.
Gary Dunnett, NPA executive officer said the organisation had consistently expressed the view that the proposed facilities were disproportionate to the needs of overnight campers.
"There should be no presumption that overnight facilities are required or appropriate in every national park setting - in many situations it is simply not possible to meet the requisite standards," Mr Dunnett said.
"A large part of the excessive scale can be attributed to the commercial model prompted by NPWS, which requires both physical separation of paying and self reliant campers and a high level of facilities for the clients of commercial operators."
NPWS said the project proposal, including the environmental and cultural assessment, would soon be submitted to the planning authority for consideration and determination.
"Works will not proceed until the project has been approved," the spokesperson said.