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Ballarat Council fails to refer lighting project to the Federal Government

PRESS RELEASE from the Lake Lighting Group

The Ballarat Council dismisses its environmental obligation for the proposed lighting project around Lake Wendouree.

It could face ‘substantial penalties for failing to seek approval from the Federal Minister for the Environment for the largely State Government funded project.

The project should have been referred to the Federal Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999(EPBC). No referral was made.

The Get the Lake Lights Right Group submitted the Council’s failure to follow due process to the Federal Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek.

The Group’s letter highlighted the Ballarat Council’s:

  1. failure to conduct proper studies into the ecological and entomological impact of the lights,

  2. failure to follow the legal protocols required given the existence of a threatened species at Lake Wendouree and

  3. failure to follow tree protection policies in relation to the impact on the 400 mature trees. Council's own arborist's report stated as long ago as March 2020 that "400 trees located within the Lake Wendouree foreshore area...could potentially be impacted upon by the proposed installation of the Lake lighting”.

In October 2022, the Environment Minister launched the Threatened Species Action Plan 2022-2032 and nearly $225 million to ‘protect, manage and restore’ Australia’s threatened species.

One of those species is the Australasian Bittern, a bird that lives at Lake Wendouree.

The Minister referred the group’s concerns about the Ballarat Councils neglect to the National Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr Fiona Fraser.

In a letter received on 01 December 2022, Ms Fraser thanked the group for “bringing your concerns to the Government’s attention.”

Most importantly the Threatened Species Commissioner stated:

Under the EPBC Act, actions that are likely to have a significant impact on Matters of National Environment Significance (e.g. threatened species such as the Australasian Bittern) require approval from the Minister for the Environment before they can proceed. Substantial penalties apply to a person who takes such an action without approval. There is no record of a referral or assessment under the EPBC Act for Lake Wendouree in Ballarat… It is the responsibility of a person proposing to take an action to make a referral under the EPBC Act when required.

A spokesperson for Get the Lake Lights Right, Amie Jessop, said the issue is serious.

“Quite clearly, the Ballarat Council has neglected a key environmental responsibility by failing to alert the Federal Minister to the project knowing Lake Wendouree is home to a threatened species.

“The light impacts of this project will be immense. The light spill issues are serious despite being completely ignored and refuted by the Council.

“The Council can sign up to every environmental alliance it likes, plead allegiance to future emissions targets, but when faced with the real environment, in real-time, with real impacts, it completely fails to either give a damn or uphold its very serious legal obligations.

“Ratepayers can expect to be paying ‘substantial’ fines for the Council's incompetence and utter neglect of its environmental obligations.

“Lake Wendouree is a unique location requiring a unique solution.

“Australian Standard carpark lighting is not a unique solution.

“Either way, the need to move the location of lights due to the tree protection policy will stop the Australian standards from being met.

“This project needs to stop immediately – clearly the right processes and protocols have not been met.

“The Lake Lighting Group will not stop, but this project should,” Ms Jessop said.

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