Environmentalists have slammed the decision to allow sensitive coastal land to be leased to the developers of the proposed KI Link golf resort.
SA Environment Minister David Speirs last Tuesday made the announcement that he would to retain a 50-metre-wide waterfront coastal reserve to allow ongoing public access to the clifftop, and negotiate a lease with golf course developer for the non-waterfront sections of the land.
But conservationists say the sensitive dune area behind the 50m waterfront strip is set to be destroyed by bulldozers. Grass fairways that require water, fertiliser and pest eradication are much worse than a few boxthorn bushes
KI Eco-Action group representative Bob Huxtable said leasing and selling were of little difference, considering what has happened with the leasehold of coastal shacks.
“The Minister has approved leasing coastal land to the developer, minus 50 metres, which by the government’s own admission, is in many places too dangerous for public access,” Mr Huxtable said.
“This whole fiasco is now possible by a sleight of hand in an Act promulgated in April 2017 which permits lease or sale of coastal Crown land when part of that land is kept in public hands.”
Mr Huxtable said documents secured under the Freedom of Information Act proved the Department of Environment since July 2017 had been talking to developers and the the minister had provided in principle approval for the direct disposal of four parcels of Crown Land at market value.
But that back in 2016, emails reveal the Government was worried about the impact of the development on the sensitive coastal dune area.
Others have welcomed the chance for the project to go ahead. A poll on The Islander’s initial story breaking the news of the minister’s decision was 70 per cent in favour of the proposed lease arrangements.
Property developer and restaurant owner Caj Amadio welcomed the news from the minister and said Kangaroo Island needed big projects such as KI Links to prosper.
Mr Amadio said the golf resort would attract people from all over the world and add to the success of new Kangaroo Island airport.
He said the proponents had experience in building golf courses on coastal land all over the world. He had faith that KI Links would nurture the environment and enhance the landscape, giving greater access to that that coastal area for not only golfers but also for the general public public to enjoy the stunning views.
Mr Amadio said it was incorrect for opponents to say that previous proposals did not extend onto Crown land.
The coastal land being sought for the proposal was degraded and would benefit from the development, he said.
Proposal sets precedent
Nearby resident Boone Law has studying the minister’s response and said he found the information “disappointing and distressing”.
“From what I can tell, the potential adverse impacts to the Crown land remain virtually the same, and I am concerned that the community will not get a say in the usage of further public lands,” Mr Law said.
“I wonder if the general public has observed that after each public consultation opportunity, the government has eventually returned with an amended plan that involves the acquisition of additional Crown lands for the Major Development?
“It seems the new proposal merely changes the goal posts and pushes the community further to the sidelines.
“The original 2015 proposal positioned the development squarely in freehold land. The latest 2017 proposal has the shifted a large proportion of project into undeveloped Crown land, much of which is currently subject to coastal conservation lease conditions.
“I believe the backflip on the previous decision is a tragic misstep of our government process, and it represents a breach of the public trust in our institutions and elected officials.
“Islanders with properties near coastal Crown land reserves will likely be concerned with the precedent this decision makes for future Major Development proposals along our island coastline.”
Greens file FOI
Greens Member of Parliament Mark Parnell obtained some of the correspondence between the SA Government and the developers that he said showed that the developer was interested in either buying or leasing the land.
“They got cold feet about buying when they saw the level of opposition,” Mr Parnell said.
“It looks as if the new Minister is determined to press on where the previous Minister got cold feet.
“The new Government’s strategy seems to be to bank on the assumption that the earlier community campaign, which attracted 780 responses, was really only about the ‘sale’ of coastal land and that a ‘lease’ is unlikely to attract much opposition.
“The local Labor Member has expressed similar views in the media.
“This won’t fool anyone. There’s not much difference between a lease or a sale once you’ve cleared the land and planted fairways and greens.
“The Greens position is that we don’t support privatising publicly owned land that is zoned for coastal conservation.
“There are better places to put a golf course than in the heart of one of Kangaroo Island’s best coastal landscapes. Conservation should mean what it says – conserving the plants and animals, not clearing it for fairways and putting greens.
“The Government’s approach is sneaky, underhanded and undemocratic. If the Minister thinks this project has wide support on Kangaroo Island, he should test it with a comprehensive public consultation process, not hide behind legal and technical loopholes.”
Mayor expresses view
Mayor Peter Clements said it had been a delicate and sometimes frustrating process.
“It is not surprising that Minister for the Environment, David Speirs has agreed on a lease for the proprietors of the new Links Golf Course under changed conditions,” Mr Clements said.
“It was obvious that people on KI were not interested in selling off Crown land but now we need to let the owners get on with the job while ensuring the very special conditions surrounding the development of the links course are fully complied with.
“Kangaroo Island Council’s support and advocacy for sustainable projects is a key plank in the overall vision for our island which will allow us to maintain the environmental, social and economic balance.
“It is a delicate and sometimes frustrating process and the golf course proposal is one such example.
“Our community will continue to maintain a very strong voice when it comes to future development and this is vital to ensuring the Island remains in the hands of, and for the overall benefit of Islanders. “
Scientist opposed to plan
Kangaroo Island resident Dr Richard Glatz is principal scientist and founder of D’Estrees Entomology & Science Service.
Dr Glatz was also disappointed with the minister’s decision and said if the golf course was going to be built on crown conservation land, it made no difference if it was sold or leased.
“The Minster has not acknowledged the main concern arising from the public consultation, which was very clear; we don’t want a golf course built over Kangaroo Island’s Crown Coastal Reserve, waterfront or otherwise,” he said
“The Minister has used a legislative trick to overturn Ian Hunter’s decision, which clearly recognised this concern of the community, various organisations, and scientists.
“The only significant effect of this latest decision is to rezone waterfront land so two more crown land parcels can be developed without consultation.
“We already owned the 50m strip and had access, so this is nothing new, although the Minister seems to be suggesting this is his gift to us.
“The golf course hardly needs any adjustment which was clearly the goal of the government. The natural ecology of that land will be largely destroyed.
“Turf grass is only capable of supporting a few introduced insects, some ants, wallabies and kangaroos.
“Scientifically and ecologically it makes no sense to remove boxthorns if a much larger area is planted to a worse weed, invasive turf grass.
“Claiming any victory through boxthorn removal on the crown land shows a poor understanding of ecology.
“You cannot mitigate ecological damage from replacing complex ecology with grass, through the use of management plans, as the Minister appears to be suggesting.
“This development was only properly assessed when on the adjoining lower quality, freehold land.
“The golf course could have been up and running if the developers and government had gone ahead with the consulted development approved on the freehold land.
“The decision to involve crown conservation land has held up the development for several years, risked it being abandoned, and made it unpopular and inappropriate with regard to natural resource management.
“It should be noted that numerous scientific, cultural and community organisations made their opposition to the use of crown land clear to the government through YourSay and privately.
“These organisations represent many thousands of people, not just the 780 individuals who pressed send on their submissions.
“As an ecological and agricultural scientist it feels like a kick in the guts from a department I continue to work with, as I know it is for others who actually understand the unique and astounding natural history of KI, and the true economic and scientific value of these ancient natural systems.
“It is concerning to have an Environment Minister who speaks often of the economy and tourism but not of the ecology, biodiversity or natural heritage that underpins it. It is also sadly ironic that a Minister who makes so much of protecting the coast, would in an early decision, sanction more damage to KI’s ecologically valuable coastline than for many years previously.
“What this decision has done is to set a very low bar for development of KI’s natural areas.
“30 jobs and 14 million of investment, which I wouldn’t have thought would even cover the buildings, and the government falls over itself to provide, against overwhelming public opposition, equal to 2.5 km of public coastline to be permanently damaged with regard to the purpose it was established, which is conservation.
“The message to developers is “Come and develop KI crown land, it’s cheap on KI”.
“It would be far more candid to be upfront about the ecological damage and their desire for a golf course to be put on the crown conservation land, than suggest we are being given something by keeping a measly 50m strip, which will become grass-infested) to “allow access”.
“It is the other 180 or so acres (≈250m wide, ≈2.5km long) where the golf course has been placed that was the cause for concern.
“Kangaroo Island’s natural heritage is our identity, it is unique. We are named of it. Without it, we are a more expensive version of the mainland.
“Everybody knows golf courses and natural ecology don’t mix; you have one or the other.
“Golf courses are not “clean and green”, they are highly tamed, and require lots of water, pesticides and fertiliser. And on KI, bullets.
“This decision is a shocker for the clean-green image of KI; the resultant publicity will likely damage this image and reduce/erase any economic benefit of the development.
“Lease conditions should not be confidential. The lands is ours and the project controversial. A confidential lease is another slap in the face to the community.
“In this day and age, and given the principles of our natural resource management planning, this development stands out as crass in its ecological insensitivity and its poor congruence with KI’s wild branding and need for carefully considered development.”