By now, even the most earnest follower of the row over the route of the Western Highway might be looking for a resolution, and we offer one here.
Being essentially a political issue involving the state and Federal Governments, the dispute follows a worrying pattern where citizens trying to logically contribute to a project have their motives questioned.
That being so, however, David Leviston's comment (We need to see the wood from the trees on controversial highway project, November 6, 2020), criticising our group, KORS, ventures into this area and this demands rebuttal.
The first fact to note is that we informed ourselves in detail about the Buangor-Ararat section of the project and aim to reduce any damage.
As widely reported, VicRoads' official study omitted both important cultural heritage and native vegetation on the chosen route.
And it is now almost nine years since an alternative route was offered by our group's members and dismissed erroneously because of these omissions.
VicRoads turned down a chance to challenge in the Supreme Court our eight reports and two letters from well-credentialed environmental, engineering and other experts, all questioning the choice of route.
Some of the reports are on the KORS website, fixfreewayfiasco.org.
Our report from environmental consultant Practical Ecology is there, saying the alternative route has "significantly less impact".
Leviston has not named any report to back his claim that a contrary finding has been "vigorously demonstrated".
With our landholder members, our group KORS proposed the alternative route to the government.
If a group including affected local landholders cannot legitimately propose a lesser-impact route, who can?
We show that long-term jobs and a safer road may be achieved more quickly and at less cost and landscape destruction.
And, while the vegetation on the route we propose is of a higher quality, other factors must be considered too.
The overall impact is far less, such as avoiding a new cutting in the landscape.
Woodland along the alternative route is far more common than the nationally endangered grassy woodland planned to be removed and the loss can be much smaller.
Without belabouring the point, we must add that with the proper, environmentally sensitive design-effort, the alternative affects just a quarter of the number of large old trees, avoids rare habitat, and is slightly shorter, while avoiding heavy earthworks and an extra bridge.
Yet it still upgrades the existing highway.
We are puzzled by David Leviston's persistent suspicion.
We aim to act in the public interest by trying to hold government to minimum impact and careful use of our money.
Our group has been subject to potentially libellous attacks.
For instance, we did not "call on Aboriginal contacts": Aboriginal people are fiercely independent and do their own thing.
We could detail other errors but suffice to say that an Arborist's report reveals 12 of the 16 "saved" culturally significant trees were never threatened with felling.
Of the four remaining, only two out of 250 large old trees have been genuinely saved.
So far on this project, Victoria's largest Yellow Gum has been poisoned.
The magnificent "Directions" Tree was felled soon after a court action was lodged to protect it.
Tragedy turned to farce when VicRoads produced a video-simulation of the alternative route, digitally faking-in trees so it looked worse and showing it to the Ararat Council and the State's Environment Department.
- Reports we sent to the State Planning Minister were not acknowledged, so the Minister did not have to consider the new information before again approving the project in 2017.
- VicRoads refused our Freedom of Information requests on this re-approval.
- A highly relevant, $27,000 cultural heritage report was not sent to the Federal Environment Minister before she made her decision about the area.
- VicRoads publicised an alternative route design that exaggerated its tree-loss about 30-fold.
- VicRoads' better plans for an alternative route are in a bottom drawer, their originator sent off the project.
- VicRoads' project staff claim the alternative route goes through the "foothills of the State Park" but the railway line and highway separate the alternative from the Park.
- Premier Daniel Andrews says this stretch of road is "deadly and dangerous", but the Pope Road-to-Warrayatkin Road project area has been fatality-free for 20 years.
- We subpoenaed field notes to discover whether fauna field surveys had actually been done, but no field notes were kept and none of the staff involved are still employed.
No successful challenge has been made to our data or position and we continue to ask the Government to allow constructive contributions to process.
At a time of financial crisis, more public money should not be splashed on further delays and court cases.
All we want is a prompt route review, using all the evidence and with thorough forecasting.
Chairman, Keep Original Route Supporters Inc.
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