Protest over wilderness road


Protest over wilderness road

By Kevin L'Huillier

HOBART — A storm has erupted over a proposal to construct what has become known as "the road to nowhere" through pristine wilderness areas.

The state Liberals promised at the last elections to complete the Heemskirk Link Road, a 36 kilometre four-wheel-drive track proposed that will complete the link from Smithton to Corinna in Tasmania's north-west at a cost of $3 million.

The road winds through the Arthur-Pieman area of the Tarkine, which is Australia's largest rainforest wilderness and should be nominated for World Heritage Listing.

Federal environment minister John Faulkner claimed in October that any work on the road would have an impact on some areas of exceptionally high conservation value. He believes that the road should not go ahead at all, and, at the very least, a comprehensive and public environmental impact assessment should be made before construction begins.

Premier Ray Groom and his cronies have thumbed their nose at this, saying the federal government has no business in Tasmania and that they would not support any further World Heritage listings.

A draft environment impact assessment, prepared by Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Environment, on a one-kilometre section of the road that includes a ferry across the Pieman River, concluded the road would pose threats such as fire, disease and vandalism to rare huon pine and archaeologically sensitive sites. The report points out that only 10 vehicles a day would use the road, for only 200 days a year because of weather restrictions.

As surveying was about to begin, a restraining order was won on November 11 by the Tasmanian Greens and the Wilderness Society to prevent work starting on the road. Under Tasmanian planning laws, all road construction and maintenance needs to be submitted to local councils for approval, and some local council planning laws prohibit the further construction of roads.

The government moved to fast-track the road proposal by getting the governor, General Sir Phillip Bennet, to approve legislation that exempts road construction and maintenance from planning laws. Ironically, this was done as the Ecotourism Conference was being held here. More than 200 delegates from the conference signed a petition to oppose the construction of the road.

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