GREEN groups, anglers and bushwalkers have vowed to inundate Central Highlands Council with submissions opposed to the “premium” Lake Malbena tourism development, which was put on public advertising on Friday.
The plans show three accommodation huts and a fourth communal hut for tour guides, covering a total of 64 square metres of floor space on Halls Island within the World Heritage Area.
A helicopter will charter visitors to a landing area about 300 metres from the island where they will be required to walk the rest of the way before boarding a boat.
The plans were submitted by Daniel and Simone Hackett, of Wild Drake Pty Ltd, who claimed there would be no helipad required for the landing area.
“There’s no helipad. It lands on naturally-cleared exposed bedrock that’s not going to erode,” Mr Hackett said.
He said the price was likely to be around $4500 per person for three nights including helicopter access and a maximum of six people per booking.
There will be 30 trips annually, but Mr Hackett said they expected a large number of couple bookings that would require the helicopter to operate four times rather than eight.
The helicopter will operate for 60 days of the year.
Approval by Central Highlands Council is the final step for the project which has been in the works for about four years, after the Tasmanian government released expressions of interest for tourism projects in the World Heritage Area.
It has received state and federal approval.
A council decision is unlikely to be the final step however, with appeals expected regardless of the outcome.
About 80 people attended a public meeting at the Great Lakes Hotel on Thursday night to discuss objectors’ plans of action, arranged by Fishers and Walkers Against Helicopter Access Tasmania.
The plans will be available for public comment until February 4, with a council decision expected later in the month.
Proponent says continued appeals would amount to ‘bullying’
Mr Hackett claimed appeals against the proposal – including the Federal Court action and potential appeals against a council decision – would be “an attempt to bully and intimidate” himself and his partner.
“It’s intimidation and stalling in the hope that finances fall over or other external factors happen,” he said.
Objections centre on the impact helicopter flights would have on the World Heritage values of the area, potentially harming the experience of other wilderness users such as anglers and bushwalkers.
Mr Hackett said the helicopter would fly within a few kilometres of clearfell logging coupes and along the eastern boundary of the World Heritage Area where “trout fishing was unsuitable”.
“Impacts are all definable. We believe we do not make significant impacts,” he said.
“There is an existing hut on the island so there has been permanent change to that landscape.
“Up to 200 trees were dropped down so those untouched values are gone. Since 1955 there has been mechanical impact, horses on the island.”
The proposal is based on similar eco-tourism models used on the coast of British Columbia and with huts in Banff in Canada.
The development application includes square-metre footprints of the Maria Island Walk and Krakani Lumi – Wukalina standing camps, which have larger areas than the Halls Island proposal.
The approvals process, in which federal Environment Minister Melissa Price gave the project the green light just days after assuming her role, has been subject to criticism from the Greens and environmental groups.
Mr Hackett accused groups of waging an “ideological” battle against tourism development in Tasmania, and were engaging in “corporational conservation” to use the issue to raise money for their causes.
“The Cradle huts were the last development before the World Heritage Area extension, do for 25 years, there has been nothing out there,” he said.
“In the last five days there has been more helicopter movement over the World Heritage Area than we will ever carry out, because of the fires.
“Tasmania needs to start being proud of how we can value our experiences.”
World Heritage Area impact, precedent at heart of objections
The Wilderness Society will urge the council to reject the Halls Island development by relying on a clause within the Central Highlands Council planning scheme that states proposals must adhere to Tasmania’s National Parks Reserves and Management Act.
The Act guarantees developments “preserve the natural, primitive and remove character of wilderness areas”.
The Wilderness Society Tasmania released a report in November written by Martin Hawes, who produced reports for the Tasmanian government in 2006 and 2016 that analysed wilderness values.
Based on Martin Hawes’ report, the projected impact to the TWWHA heritage values (drag slider across to see alleged changes):
Mr Hawes’ report was among submissions made to the state and federal governments, but his recommendations were rejected.
Wilderness Society Tasmania spokesperson Vica Bayley said the report showed the Halls Island development would “degrade” wilderness values of the area.
“The council must have regard to this legislation,” he said.
Mr Bayley rejected claims made by Mr Hackett that opponents were using the issue to raise funds.
“So what are the fishers and walkers doing this for?” he said.
“This is just a diversion from his own profit making aspirations from the privatisation of public land.
“If he wants to raise money issues, will he release the lease he has been given, including the financial terms under which he has been granted exclusive private rights to a publicly-owned reserve?”
Mr Hackett said the report overstated the impact on wilderness areas.
Anglers object to public access restrictions
The Fishers and Walkers Against Helicopter Access Tasmania say they were “overwhelmed” by the interest in their public meeting on Thursday night.
The group’s southern representative Loic Auderset said the meeting attracted Central Highlands residents, along with anglers and bushwalkers.
He said attendees were eager for an update on the Federal Court action, and information on making a submission to council.
Mr Auderset said many had the same objection against limiting public access to Halls Island.
“It wasn’t that long ago that it was public land. For some reason the whole island has been given a private lease. The public is not allowed to go there without permission,” he said.
“It just sets a pretty dangerous precedent of what’s allowed in the WHA, once this is given the OK then I’m sure we’ll see similar things happen elsewhere.”
The group started a Facebook page in response to the development.
Mr Auderset said the angling community was almost unanimous in its opposition.
“Most of the people that seem to want this proposal to go ahead are people that don’t know the area, or never really get out into the national park area,” he said.