AWC, Friends respond to news of Flinders Chase legal action

PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT: An artist's impression from AWC of what the seven-unit sleeping pods will look like in the landscape at Sanderson Bay on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.
PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT: An artist's impression from AWC of what the seven-unit sleeping pods will look like in the landscape at Sanderson Bay on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.

The Australian Walking Company has defended the approval process that gave the nod to its proposed lodge accommodation in Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island.

The Department for Environment and Water chose not to comment on the legal action, but Environment Minister David Speirs told ABC radio that he believed the State approval process was legitimate and the proposal would provide jobs on Kangaroo Island.

The Friends of Parks Kangaroo Island Western Districts meanwhile support the legal action and plan to hold information booths in Kingscote next week

An AWC spokesperson said the company had met every standard, regulation or other environmental compliance requirement throughout what it believes was a most stringent process.

"We have worked closely with South Australian based experts including ecologists, architects and engineers to refine the design and significantly lessen the environmental impact," the spokesperson said.

"To date we have held over 20 public and private consultations despite there being no requirement which has lead significant changes including the reduction in track and trails by 45 per cent.

"Our new four-day guided walking experience will see an investment of $4.8 million for South Australia and provide the equivalent of 30 new full-time jobs when operating at full capacity.

"Support of the project has continued to grow with a fantastic response by the local community following our recent call for businesses and individuals who would like to work with us during the construction phase or once the walk is operational.

"The 2013 Kangaroo Island Futures Authority Report, which provided the original intent of the walk, made recommendations for a commercial tour operator to construct accommodation on four nodes within the park requiring an additional 6.5 km in tracks and trails.

"AWC responded to the tender process and was selected as the proponent based on our proposal which utilises only two accommodation nodes in the park.

"The additional night of the four-day walk will be at the Light Keepers Cottages following a $300,000 AWC funded renovation.

"The cottages will remain available to the general public at a similar rate with plans to increase the current low occupancy level of 25 per cent."

AWC also took issue with comments made in a recent letter to The Islander that stated the main building at each of the lodge sites were the size of a four-bedroom house.

But the letter writer defended his comparison, citing information he had was that the the communal longhouse measured 9.1 metres by 18.9 metres and was 4 metres high.

Friends support action

Friends of Parks KI Western Districts supports the legal action, and president Deb Laver said her group was one of the groups together with numerous individuals that made up the Public Parks NOT Private Playgrounds coalition.

"We are disappointed it has come to this but to exclude the community from the decision making process about public land is not acceptable," Ms Laver said.

"We had hoped that the Department for Environment and Water and the Australian Walking Company would consider the suitability of the natural environment first and foremost in their decision making, not the AWC business model.

"All we have asked and continue to ask is that they consider other more suitable location options, away from our fragile coastline, and more closely aligned to the award winning Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.

"The accommodation needs to be relocated close to the trail as intended in the Flinders Chase Management Plan.

"If the company and DEW had followed all the appropriate processes and recognised the validity of the strong public opposition to the proposals there would have been no need to take time and resource-consuming legal action.

"It is a shame that we have to turn to crowd-funding to ensure that we protect our National Parks from inappropriate development like that currently proposed."

Public Parks NOT Private Playgrounds will hold an information stall at Fine Art KI on Dauncey Street, Kingscote from 10am to 2pm on Thursday, August 29 and 9am to 1pm on Saturday, August 31.