Koala group opposes Olympic whitewater centre on Birkdale site

The Koala Action Group has attacked Redland City Council’s proposed Birkdale whitewater centre in a submission to the Senate inquiry into Australia’s preparedness to host Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Eleven of the 80 published submissions to this inquiry deal entirely or mainly with criticism of the proposed Birkdale whitewater centre.

Opposition to the proposed Birkdale whitewater centre is also evidenced by a petition to Queensland Parliament which has so far gained more than 1,600 signatures.

Koala Action Group’s submission

Here is the Koala Action Group’s submission in response to the Senate inquiry’s terms of reference.

Submission to the Senate Inquiry: Australia’s preparedness to host Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games

The Koala Action Group Qld Inc. (KAG) was established 35 years ago in response to community concerns about the long term survival of the large number of koalas living in the Redlands area. Since that time KAG has accumulated much knowledge in koala habitat usage, assisted scientists with koala surveys, restored habitat and carried out a program of public awareness of koala issues. Most important of all is KAG’s record of strategic tree planting in partnership with the Redland City Council (RCC). Some 100,000 trees have been planted by KAG and plantings are still continuing. Individual members have gained valuable experience working with sick and injured koalas on the Council and State-run Koala Ambulance and by rearing orphaned koalas.

Our concerns are with the impacts of the new Whitewater Centre proposed by the Redland City Council (RCC) for the 2032 Olympics on an environmentally significant site (362-388 Old Cleveland Road East, Birkdale). This land was previously owned by the Commonwealth Government and our understanding is that it was sold to the RCC on the condition that its environmental assets were to be protected. Our concerns are discussed below under the relevant terms of reference:

d. the adequacy of oversight and accountability processes for investments in new or upgraded sporting infrastructure to host Games events

In recent public consultation by the RCC on the Birkdale site, the RCC has requested a Local Government Infrastructure Designation (LGID) which will, if accepted severely limit the public participation in future decisions. The RCC already treats consultation as a public relations exercise and makes it clear they are not interested in oversight and accountability as the following examples show.

Many of the documents necessary to inform the public of the viability and impacts of the proposed whitewater centre on the environment were missing from the RCC’s consultation page. These included appendices that were referred to within the documents that were provided (but not attached) and updated engineering reports. These updates are essential as what was provided on the RCC website was a preliminary engineering report that was completed before the whitewater centre was even proposed.

Our group is deeply concerned about the impacts of building a whitewater centre immediately adjacent to protected conservation areas, especially when it appears the Olympic Committee does not condone this:

Clause 15.3 of the Olympic Host Contract Principles 2032:

Where new permanent venues need to be constructed, the Hosts, the Host NOC and the OCOG shall ensure that they are not located in or adjacent to statutory nature, cultural protected areas or World Heritage Sites

An early draft of the Conservation Agreement with the Commonwealth Government (2019) emphasised the importance of allowing fauna movement across the site. The Master Plan shows almost half of the development footprint will be blocked by the Whitewater Centre and the lagoon. The provision of a rope bridge may help possums and gliders over this area but is highly unlikely to be used by koalas.

The overwhelming problem presented by the large footprint of the Whitewater Centre is insurmountable. It is indisputable that this presents an impenetrable, permanent barrier to the north-south movement of koalas across the site. Koalas in the Redlands are in such a tenuous position that any changes in their usage of the habitat can have profound deleterious consequences.

Additionally, some of the documents on the RCC website contain mistakes that would profoundly affect the Indigenous Cultural Heritage of the site. The most culturally important sites were mistakenly (?) marked as ‘low risk’ with damaging infrastructure shown on these sites. See attached maps (Appendix A). The Birkdale project needs more oversight and yet the RCC seems determined to avoid public scrutiny as shown by their desire for an LGID.

Appendix A


h. the costs and benefits to the Australian community of investments in infrastructure to support the Games, including any impacts on local government, communities and business in host locations;

There was limited factual information given by the RCC about the financial viability of the project in the recent consultation. For example, in the Master Plan and Foundation Report, the RCC suggests that there has been due diligence that purports to show the whitewater centre “will operate at a breakeven or profit generating level”. However, none of these reports have been provided by the RCC leading to doubts about their findings. The council documents are vague and are more in the realm of advertising hype than a serious discussion about exactly what the ratepayers are being asked to pay for.

Public use of the whitewater facility beyond the disaster and resilience training activities is expected to be the majority revenue source. This includes hosting conferences, as well as other training and tours.

The above statement is questionable in the knowledge that, of the last six whitewater centres built for the Olympics, three are abandoned and the other three are operating at a loss.

Apart from the financial costs to the community, perhaps the greater cost is the loss of our environmental and cultural heritage. Our koalas are endangered and exhibiting severe decline and the Birkdale land contains some of the best koala habitat in the area. The building of a whitewater centre surrounded on three sides by recognised koala habitat, with no provision for buffer areas will inevitably lead to loss of habitat from edge effects. The site for the whitewater centre is a small, constrained area of only 2.5 hectares. This is in comparison to the Penrith whitewater centre which has a footprint of twice that area. (See Appendix B.) It would not be surprising if the council has to increase the size of this area and impinge on the conservation area after the project has been given the go-ahead.

Appendix B (click to enlarge maps)


KAG also has concerns about the indirect impact of changes in the hydrology that may affect the surrounding Threatened Ecological Communities (TEC). The Birkdale Community Precinct is situated on a sensitive estuary where the freshwater aquifers rely on a positive pressure to prevent saltwater intrusion. Considerable earthworks are required for such a project which can cause changes in the hydrology which could affect the surrounding forests spelling disaster for the koala population.

In all the previous consultation by the RCC, the prime message from the people of the Redlands was that the most important values to be protected were the environmental values of the area. The whitewater centre was not even among the top preferences and only came in at number 8 because the whitewater centre was grouped with other attractive options.

e. investments into the provision of transport infrastructure to facilitate the involvement of more Australians in the Games;

The Birkdale whitewater centre is not situated close to any mass public transport options. It is at least 2 kilometres from the closest train station and is serviced by just the normal suburban bus routes. The main transport option mentioned in the Master Plan and Foundation Report is “active transport” which is the provision of cycle ways and walking paths. While such actions are laudable, they are scarcely what is needed to service a large number of Olympic event spectators. Transport for numbers of people, presumably will be provided by buses and coaches which can be chaotic on the surrounding roads.

Conclusion

The proposal for a new Olympic whitewater venue at Birkdale is flawed in many ways. It is not supported by the local community with consultation being selectively interpreted by the RCC. The impacts on the site’s natural values have not been properly assessed in an open and accountable way. Documents were not supplied or were outdated or incomplete, which affected the community’s opportunity to accurately comment on the reports. There is no evidence that the financial impost on the community will be acceptable.

The site is too constrained by protected conservation areas to allow for the disturbance that would inevitably come from the construction of a whitewater centre. The community may well lose the potential for sensitive outdoor experiences that value and support the environment. The endangered koalas that live on the site will be affected by the construction and operation of the whitewater centre despite measures that have been promised.

The mistake in choosing a site for a canoe / kayak launching facility does not engender faith that the indigenous culture and natural values will be protected, in spite of the RCC’s fine words about ‘respect and protect’. If they can get this so wrong, there are sure to be similar mistakes elsewhere.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment,

Lynn Roberts BSc (AES)
Vice-president KA
G

29th May 2023

Whitewater submissions to the Inquiry

80 submissions have been published by the Senate inquiry into Australia’s preparedness to host Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games. Eleven of these submissions deal specifically or mainly with Redland City Council’s proposed whitewater centre.

Submission NumberSubmitter
10Peter Wear
14Maria Paola Torti
16Jeanette and Brian Douglass
18Stephen Sharry
27Mark Rodwell 
55Name withheld
61CARP Redlands Inc
66Name withheld
69Redlands2030
74Koala Action Group
76Name withheld

Some of these submissions have already been published by Redlands2030:

Olympic canoe slalom plan slammed in submissions to Senate inquiry

Proposed Olympic Canoe Slalom venue at Birkdale – by Peter Wear

Criticism of the whitewater proposal is also discussed in submission 45 by Brisbane Residents United and submission 73 by State MP Amy McMahon (The Greens).

Redlands2030 – 20 July 2023

0 thoughts on “Koala group opposes Olympic whitewater centre on Birkdale site”

  1. Agree with Community Alliance for Responsible Planning’s spokeswoman, Lavinia Wood, along with Koala Action Group’s Vice President, Lynn Roberts, that the plan for Birkdale Community Precinct in Redlands to be developed into an Olympics 2032 Whitewater Stadium, be rejected. This facility is unwanted, unnecessary, since Australia already has two White Water Rafting facilities to choose from; namely: Olympic 2000 Whitewater Stadium, Penrith, NSW, plus Tully Gorge site near Cairns, over a decade, Best Training location in Southern Hemisphere, if not the World. Instructor Group developed a course second to none said Instructor John Roche…having traveled through Tasmania, Victoria, other locations. He said no other location like “Tully Gorge.”
    Our Birkdale land is at present, a safe haven for koalas and other wildlife and imperative it remain a “Redlands Wild Koala Refuge and “Cultural Heritage Precinct”. Koala numbers across nation continue to decline, with populations in NSW & SEQ the most at risk. Env Min Tanya Plibersek said govt would invest $76.9m in protecting country’s koalas that includes large-scale habitat restoration activities, monitoring and koala health and care projects”, she said.
    We must seize this opportunity to protect the Birkdale Community land for koalas into the future by all of us working together to enhance the resilience of our landscapes, so they can better withstand the challenges of both flood and drought.. Only nature based projects be permitted, not water based Olympic stadiums as proposed by Local, State and Federal governments to build the destructive facility, leaving Redland City Council ratepayers responsible for ongoing maintenance.
    The impact of building the White Water Facility for 2032 Olympics, would be severe if allowed to proceed. We, the people, voted for nature. Walking trails, koala conservation, promoting tourism to attract local & overseas visitors to view the WWII Radio Receiving Station built by US Army, intact, plus restored Willard Homestead, built mid 1800s. Please reject building a Whitewater canoe racing Centre on the Birkdale land that, as in other places, would eventually, when the novelty wears off, become a ‘white elephant’..
    ..

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