Saturday 6 September 2008

Our next False Cape

It's been a week of focus on the local environment in Far North Queensland.

Every builder and developer should now be taking a hard and urgent look at what they're doing.

Today I'm releasing the last two videos to show everyone the destruction that is occurring right now at the top of Foley Road, Palm Cove.

The biggest issue at this site, is the unsafe condition of the land. You will see how deep and soft the soil is in my videos, as some areas goes up to your knees.

Engineers have written reports about excavation problems on this parcel of land. Robert Donnan of Arup, wrote, in documents filed in a court case against developer Phil Hartwig, where he was ordered to repay some $350K to the plaintiff, about the uncompacted fill.

Another engineer at Golder, wrote a report for architect Roger Mainwood, which scared his company away from Foley Road faster the sediment run off.

We believe that the land has been stripped and illegally graded. Whilst this development site goes why back some 11 years or so, approval was given by the Mulgrave Shire, under Kevin Byrne's leadership.

The adjacent property, owned by Andrew Buxton, a wealthy Melbourne property developer, has also had discussions with Cairns Council about developing their hillside property. I'm told that there have been in a number of litigation disputes about road access and the reconfiguring of the road, which Phil Hartwig changed to weave up the hillslop. Just a few months ago, Sapphire Ridge was forced to cease public functions at the property.

The entire project area of the Foley Road development is above the 80 meter 'no build' hillside line. Previous approvals to Hartwig, when he built his house overlooking the excavation, have expired.

Councillor Sno Bonneau, whose Division used to encompass Palm Cove, prior to the March local body elections, has assisted Hartwig to get approvals and extensions.

Two engineering firms, including Golder Associates, have discovered large areas of uncompacted fill and other land anomalies due to the illegal grading.

There are questions if Hartwig has dammed Sweet Creek, that runs through his property, to provide water to his property as well as the Buxton house. This is hired out for weddings and as a holiday house for those that can afford the $450 per night price tag.

During our inspection last week, we noticed that massive amounts of silt runoff is occurring to run into the creek system, and the Cairns Regional Council appear to be so focused on pumping out a new logo and backing a festival.

Here's the videos. Part 1, Parts 2 & 3, and now Part four, in our five-part series:

The current development approval for Foley Road is very questionable. What was approved, and what is allowed to occur on that site are probably two totally different things. The land had only a tourist resort approval, not for the building of single family houses. Also, the land isn't large enough to comply as a tourist resort. It's too small to provide sufficient parking.

To a casual observer, it would appear that during the Sno Bonneau tenure, a great deal was approved on the northern beaches. This often accompanied threats from those that wanted to develop land with intention to sue. I sat through many a Council meeting, where it was stated that if approval wasn't granted, a costly court contest could occur, with not reasonably outcome that Council would win. This argument was used for many years, as a way of placating the public, in that they wouldn't what to use public rates in lengthy court battles.

Despite all of these serious questions over the Foley Road development, Hartwig must be still looking for investors to move this project ahead, all the while that land is exposed and open to the onslaught of the upcoming wet season.

Nearly 2 kilometers away, from the Argentea land, neighbouring Clifton Beach, you can clearly see that damage and scarring on Foley Road.

Terry Spackman says that this is very poor development practices. For such vast area, the land should prepared in small parcels, so it can be stabilised along the way. You would also have to ask why the natural rainforest wasn't integrated into this development. Surely it would be far more appealing for houses, designed and built for amongst a tropical rainforest, to work in sympathy with it. However, the land has been totally cleared. Is Hartwig going to plant a few palm trees afterwards?

Besides the destruction of the rainforest, grading, roading, all of which has been rewarded by successive Cairns Councils instead of scrutinising and monitoring, Hartwig is setting a precedent for new projects above the 80 meter no build hillside line

It will be harder for Council to not approve developers in future, once this kind of mess is allowed. They will simply threaten court action. This opens all our hillslopes to development, without condition.
A shocking footnote to this sorry saga, is that the Combined Beaches Community Association alerted Drew McLean, at the Federal Environment Ministry a year ago, with a number of letters, and have never had one reply. Just prior to the March Council elections, Garrett's inspectors came up to Cairns to view False Cape, to prepare a report, which has never been released. They also visited Argentea and Foley Road at Palm Cove. The dialogue prior to them coming to Cairns was "open and fluid", however, following return to their Canberra bunker, all communication was cut off with the locals that had alerted them to these environmental crimes.

They say a picture tells a thousands stories, well here's the final part in our series of videos to show you the utter destruction at Foley Road:


Anonymous said...

After watching all the 5 parts on youtube l sure wouldnt want to be living in the subdivions in the bottom when we get some decrnt rains
Even when Terry says to revegitate immediatly l think its too far gone now
Hydromulching with a few months growth wouldnt save to much l think in a good downpour
Has the EPA been up there and inspected the jobs EMP? Looking at the green sediment fence its not installed properly and there doesnt near look like enough sediment control on site

Anonymous said...

Get on to Peter Garret's office immediately about this as well.

Anonymous said...

Yep, some Palm Cove residents are gonna have tonnes of sludge bucketed over them in the next Big Wet. I don't know why you are bothering Michael. We all know Val Shier will individually and personally cop the full blame. Gavin King is onto it.

Anonymous said...

Much appreciation to Terry Spackman and Mike Moore for persisting with these nuts and bolts development issues.

I have to point out that Kevin Byrne never ever "led" the Mulgrave Shire Council - that was Tom Pyne.

Also the issue of properly enforcing sediment and erosion control, and policing development conditions, is now squarely the responsibility of Val Schier - and Val has the power to do a good job if she chooses.

In my opinion all that we can expect of Peter Tabulo (if he is left unsupervised and undirected) is an exercise in spin. The proposed education program will achieve little in the absence of effective enforcement, but I predict that PT, VS and the CRC media flaks will pump it up as a fabulous green revolution even as the creeks turn red with silt.

CAFNEC, The FNQ Greens, and Save Our Slopes ought all be hot onto Val and the CRC demanding results - that is action, not words.

I watched Terry give the CRC a great presentation on sediment and erosion control at False Cape three months ago. It would be nice if CRC paid attention to him on this issue of Foley Rd.

Anonymous said...

Last year in November, the Combined Beaches Community Association met with and showed the very same EPBC officers (Dept. of Environment – Canberra) who came up to investigate False Cape, what was going on with Thackral’s Argentea, and Ratcliffe’s Royal Palms (Palm Cove) as well as Foley Road.

The silence has been deafening under ex Liberal federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull and things have not improved under Labor Minister Peter Garret re some form of action, stop work notice, or other finding that this developer is in breach of a whole raft of bad environmental practices. The False Cape report and the Foley Road report must be locked up in the same drawer in some bureaucrat’s drawer in Canberra!

The Cairns City Council and DNR have been well informed of what has been going on here and have also contributed to this mess, by doing nothing.

This cowboy developer has been allowed to play with his earthmoving toys for almost another 12 months, clearing more vegetation, removing more of the hillslope and doing who knows how much more damage to Sweet Creek, that this developments sits beside.

Someone needs to be accountable, someone needs to stop what is going on and someone needs to start stabilizing and revegetating and quickly.

Anonymous said...

What's the betting nothing will be done until, as mentioned above, a few hundred tonnes of sludge end up dumped on top of residents' homes? Then, of course, we know who will cop the full blame....

Anonymous said...

I would caution anyone from going to "nose around" Phil Hartwig's environmental disaster on their own. [Deleted comments]

He has a couple very vicious dogs, who have free roam of the area [Deleted comments].

He's for years fancied himself as a "developer", and although many have tried over the years to make a reasonable development deal with him he thinks the land is worth $MILLIONS$ and refuses to let anyone else help him.

He's a bulldozer driver by trade, so that's what he's doing now - bulldozing the hillside away. No retaining walls, no sediment control, no nothing - because he hasn't any money of his own. He thinks some deep pocket Mexican sucker is going to show up and buy a couple allotments for $1M each and then he'll be on easy street.

This environmental vandal is on his last call - council clearly needs to take this land off him. [comments deleted].

Anonymous said...

So, everyone's known about this for ages - over a year you say.. what have all the council inspectors and planners being doing? I know they drive around all day long trying to catch a stray dog.. but it seems that they really need to catch the stray developers !

Anonymous said...

its always been common knowledge that the development side of the council has been understaffed A lot of them left and went to other departments over the last 12-18 months
Whether this was disgruntlment or not for the work they were expected to do for the resources supplied
Some of the CRC inspectors are consultants who and work for them self
This doesnt stop them working for developers also as consultants
As for Val she sits in the background and says very little All the promises she made before the election to save the slopes etc from this sort of development and now we dont hear boo from her
l laughed at the comment that CRC are going to spend $40 thousand on sediment control at false cape that wont even be the tip of the iceberg for repairing and implementing the Enviromental Management Plan

Anonymous said...

Whilst it may be true that some good staff have left the planning department of Council, the bad wood still remains floating at the top and that is our problem! These guys have no environmental credentials and probably do not even know what a wallaby or quall looks like, let alone, know the difference between creek classification systems, vegetation classifications or the importance of preserving wildlife habitats. Time and time again, our Council, usually on the recommendations of these same senior planning officers, overturns residents concerns about riparian clearing, developer interference in waterways and the importance of tree preservation on building sites. The failure of this Council to have a functioning and up-to-date tree preservation register is either just another dysfunctional attribute of this local government entity or they are completely and utterly incompetent. Personally, I believe, that they are complicit with developers and state govt departments and have been doing business this way for so long, that they have lost sight of their real roles and responsibilities and especially now in an era of dramatic and undeniable climate change.

It is a terrible indictment that a Conservation Area at the back of Paradise Palms was recently allowed to have its zoning changed from Impact Assessable to Code Assessable development. This is a classic example of what I am referring to…….. when is a conservation area not a conservation area? When a large Cairns developer decides that he wants the future ability to be able to build on this block of land, and puts the screws on Council planners, this is the result after planners recommended the change.

The motion at the Planning and Environment Council meeting was subsequently lost 6 votes to 5, with Councillors Bonneau, Blake, Gregory, Lansky, Cochrane and Cooper winning the vote. This decision on the part of Councillor Gregory makes a complete mockery of his recent re-iteration of his Code of Conduct declaration as recorded in the Cairns Post. There were over 100 submissions by local residents to try and protect this Conservation area from further development for the future.

Perhaps the imminent exposure of further unbelievable environmental degradation by developers involving Argentea and Foley road will bring this house of cards tumbling down.

Anonymous said...

Your Foley's War expose is hot!

Journalism like this can make that type of crappy development a thing of the past

Well done