The nation’s biggest wind farm development on King Island is being threatened by golf course developments — that themselves threaten 80,000 mutton birds. David Looker reports.
THE Short-tailed Shearwater, commonly called the mutton bird, is an unassuming bird whose habits capture the imagination.
It breeds in coastal sand holes dug in massive rookeries across southern Australia and then flies in a figure of eight pattern, across the Pacific, to feeding grounds as far away as the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. It is a prolific species — Parks Tasmania estimate there are 23 million of them.
The shearwater often returns to breed in the same hole and with the same mate — sometimes for over a decade. Flights of up to 17,000 kilometres have been tracked.
Now, despite their seasonal absence, about 80,000 of these birds currently in the Northern hemisphere have unwittingly flown right into the King Island wind farm debate. They don’t know it yet, but they will find out when they return to Cape Wickham, King Island next year and find their holes have been “relocated” to make way for a golf course under the Cape Wickham Lighthouse.
This golf course proposal is contained in a Development Application (DA) lodged with the King Island Council by Lighthouse Properties Australia Pty Ltd. (It can be read in full here.)
The report by Richard Chamberlain Golf Design, which accompanies the DA, casually states it is an “inevitable ” part of building the golf course that a Short-tailed Shearwater colony of 42,000 holes (presumably meaning 80,000 birds) will suffer “dislocation”. According to the Chamberlain Report, this has been approved by Parks Tasmania.
This might ordinarily have plenty to do with ecology and nothing to do with wind farms, except that the DA proposal was tabled in the very same week that arguments were presented to a tightly controlled public meeting on a socio-economic report that implied that golf versus wind farm was a central issue for King Island residents to consider in weighing up their vote in a forthcoming plebiscite to decide whether or not the Islanders wish to proceed with a feasibility study on Hydro Tasmania’s proposed $2 billion wind farm.
Bird interests strongly allied themselves with this argument and with the Golf Courses. They now appear conflicted – or ‘dislocated’– in their alliance.
The population of King Island is split in the lead up to a plebiscite for the $2 billion Project (REF), involving construction of a proposed 200 wind turbines on the Island. TasWind have said they will be bound by this vote.
It may be hard to see competing aims between wind farms and golf courses, but on King Island that is how the debate is being framed.
The development of two golf courses has been approved by local and State Planning Authorities. The two golf courses in question include the one at Cape Wickham being developed by Turnpoint mentioned earlier.
This spectacularly beautiful bit of coast is the location of the famous Cape Wickham lighthouse — an iconic navigational guide to sailors of days long gone and coincidentally the site of many shipwrecks. It was “officially opened” last year by Governor General Quentin Bryce in a ceremony to mark its 150th birthday.
The second course is located nearer to Currie and will be known as Ocean Dunes.
The golf course versus wind debate formally entered discussion when the TWCC (TasWind Consultative Committee) commissioned CH2MHill, a Melbourne firm, to appraise the study previously done by TasWind contractor E3 Consulting. The TWCC is supposed to be independent, although one can imagine this is a challenge for the 17 members, who clearly have opinions of their own.
In the CH2MHill study, the issue of the economic benefits to the Island, set out in the E3 Planning Report, is reframed into a simple comparison of benefits in a range of golf courses versus wind farms scenarios. Why one would affect the other is not addressed in the Report.
One might reasonably assume the benefits of both would far outweigh one or the other, especially since the golf courses are going ahead anyway, according to their backers. Equipment is on the ground at Wickham and the first sod turned at Ocean Dunes. So the CH2MHill report analysing a case of “wind farm equals less successful golf courses” arguably starts from a false premise.
That premise is then extended to the less credible point that the net economic benefit to the Island is more if the golf courses go ahead without the wind farm. In fact the benefit is said to be less if the wind farm is added. This is a case of 1+1= …<1.
Ironically, the CH2MHILL study has been funded by Hydro Tasmania, and their tactics in this debate are becoming increasingly hard to fathom as this review is against their own Report and sets out to undermine their own case.
E3 Planning, the authors of the original report, were denied a chance to respond at the public meeting held to address this report on 27 May. The writer was present and estimates 15 per cent of the Island population attended.
Hydro Tasmania have said they are concerned that the report by CH2MHill significantly overplayed the potential economic benefits to the community without TasWind being built, their CEO Roy Adair stating:
“There is also no evidence that I am aware of that TasWind will detract from these golf courses reaching their full potential as suggested by the report.”
What has this to do with the Shearwater rookery?
The relevance is that, in framing the golf course versus wind farm conflict, strong support has been received for the two golf courses option by people associated with Birds Australia and local bird organisations. It is not clear if they were aware of the proposal to ‘dislocate’ 80,000 shearwaters in the Cape Wickham rookery — but they are now.
This might commonly be called a “wedge”.
This writer has previously observed the issues facing King Islanders with the proposed TasWind renewable energy option go beyond the Island community.
The case of the Cape Wickham shearwaters is another example of the bigger picture.
The proposed bulldozing of the rookery has already attracted attention from the Federal Department of Environment and Water Resources, who have in the past taken the view that under The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) that matters of “national environment significance” include the listed migratory Short Tailed Shearwater.