Court Overturns Approval of Roe Highway Ext

In a decision handed down today, Chief Justice of the WA Supreme Court, Wayne Martin, overturned the WA Environmental Protection Authority’s September 2013 decision to recommend approval of the so-called Roe 8 highway extension. The extension would put a high-speed, limited access freight highway through the middle of the Beeliar Regional Park and would have resulted in what the State conceded were “significant” impacts on critically sensitive wetlands and threatened species of flora and fauna, including 2 species of black cockatoo, the Southern Brown Bandicoot and the Graceful Sun Moth.

The application for review was filed on behalf of Save Beeliar Wetlands (Inc) (SBW), a coalition that has, in one form or another, opposed the RHE 8 project since the current Government first announced its commitment to build the highway extension during the 2008 State elections. The Application was also filed on behalf of Carole de Barre, an individual whose property adjoins the proposed highway extension. Among other things, the application for review claims that the EPA’s environmental assessment of the RHE 8 was affected by the participation of Authority members who were interested in the project’s approval.

The EDOWA said that “In 2013, the State’s approval of a proposed, $45 Billion natural gas processing and export facility at James Price Point north of Broom, was set aside because the EPA failed to properly exclude conflicted members from participating in the assessment. In the approval of the RHE 8 project – another billion dollar-plus project – we see yet again the participation of conflicted Authority members in a State-led project’s assessment. The process once again has let WA’s citizens down.  While not specifically named in the application for review, EDOWA noted that the interests of two (2) former EPA members were implicated, namely: (1) Dr Chris Whitaker, who served as an EPA member from 11 May 2007 (and Deputy Chairman from 18 November 2009) to 17 November 2012, and (2) Dr Rod Lukatelich, who served as an EPA member from 18 November 2009 to 10 May 2014.

Both members, had conflicts of interest that contributed to the Court’s 2013 rejection of the James Price Point gas project. The judicial challenge does not turn solely on conflict or bias, however. “We have also challenged the EPA’s (and Minister’s) failure to consider alternative road alignments or ‘no build’ options in the assessment process and the failure to properly apply EPA policy regarding environmental offsets”, SBW Chairperson Kate Kelly said. “For instance, while Main Roads originally proposed to acquire 468 ha of land to offset Black Cockatoo habitat lost in the highway extension, EPA cut that Medicommitment in half – to 234 ha – and then left the specifics ‘to be decided later’”, she noted. The RHE 8 project is currently awaiting Federal environmental approval.