$10m river resort objection

By Jarryd Barca

A statement of objection has been lodged against a development of an eco-tourism resort planned near Corowa.

The planned $10 million project has been presented to a Joint Regional Planning Panel for determination.

The Federation Council are still in receipt of the application which was lodged in February this year, and is currently still in the assessment phase by council.

To be known as ‘Warrawidgee Island Conservation Resort’, the development plan has been devised by Warrawidgee property owners located on the edge of the Murray River and will be located on 316.2 hectares if approved.

According to Habitat Planning’s Development Application (DA), “the development is a principally comprised tourist accommodation in the way of cottages, cabins, studios, tents and caravan sites”.

“Ancillary infrastructure includes recreation areas with swimming pools, a BBQ area, playground and extensive walking tracks on the island of Boiling Down Creek,” the document states.

As also outlined in the DA report, an eco-tourist facility means a “building or place that provides temporary or short-term accommodation to visitors on a commercial basis, is located in or adjacent to an area with special ecological or cultural features and is sensitively designed and located so as to minimize bulk, scale and overall physical footprint and any ecological or visual impact”.

The two sections of the resort include the surface area from the Spring Drive entrance through to the Boiling Down Creek and the island on the opposite side of the creek that is accessed only by a walking bridge.

The main areas of the resort will include other
features such as two pools, caravanning facilities, a large viewing deck and formalized walking tracks.

The other hope from Habitat Planning is to provide river canoeing, bike riding and other educational activities.

Corowa local Robert Pearce, who is the owner of the direct adjoining property known as Bongeroo, expressed major concerns over the proposed eco-tourism facility.

“Our main concerns are potential pollution to the river and the effect on the environment,” Mr Pearce told The Free Press.

Mr Pearce believes that this proposed river resort could set a precedent for the future development along the whole length of the river.

“That is definitely not good for the river, what it’s classed as is strongly opposed by the authorities,” he said.

“As far as the island goes, we have real concerns in the event of a fire, because they are promoting it as the feature of the resort where people will spend the day on the island.

“And there are many spots down there that are almost impenetrable, and if a fire started, it would be almost impossible to get back to the bridge, which is the only point of exit from the island.

“As far as the sewerage system goes, we have real concerns because we don’t believe they can situate sewerage treatment plans in the position they propose over the high bank.

“It also poses the problem that treated effluent is going to be pumped onto the pastures which in winter time when they’re saturated, will drain straight back into the Boiling Down Creek because all of the drainage from the property goes into that creek.”

Mr Pearce said the stipulations for a river front development states that such developments should not be readily visible from the river, neighboring properties or the road.

“In this case it’ll be clearly visible, even if they put it where they’re proposing,” he said.

“But if they put it 100 metres from the high bank which is stipulated in the local environment plan, it’ll be completely out in the open where there’s no trees at all.

“There is a stipulated 100m setback from the high bank of the river in the Corowa LEP, yet the developers’ plans are showing development within the 100-metre mark of the high bank from Boiling Down Creek.”

Mr Pearce and his family’s first reaction when realizing the plans was one of horror, suggesting there was “no way” a development like this could be allowed.

“Once we saw the actual plans we were horrified, because initially we were led to believe they were looking at something small and unobtrusive,” Mr Pearce said.

“But to put 600 people, which is nearly the population of Wahgunyah, into such a small area right on the edge of Boiling Down Creek, it can only lead to environmental destruction.”

Federation Council General Manager Adrian Butler told The Free Press the development is still under assessment and a final date for the determination has not yet been set.

“Due to the nature of the development, being eco-tourism with a value greater than $5 million in capital investment value, the determination will be by the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel,” he said.

“Council’s role is to undertake the assessment, including consideration of any submissions received in the exhibition period. The submissions received are being considered in the assessment phase.”

Mr Pearce believes the developers just want to get the DA passed so they can sell out to the highest bidder, who would not take into consideration or care for the health of the river.

“Protecting the river is for the public good and outweighs the private gain of a few individuals,” he said.

“There is nothing eco about polluting the river. The amount of waste generated by 600 people would be enormous.”

Warrawidgee was originally part of Bongeroo when Robert’s grandfather bought the property in 1910 and it remained in the family ownership until 1973. There have been four subsequent owners since then.

“I’ve lived my entire 60 years at Bongeroo and I have had either working relationships helping or working for all subsequent owners,” Mr Pearce said.

“I feel that I know more about the property than any other person.”