The federal Environment Department is continuing to question the Tasmanian Government about the lack of a covenant or any other legal conservation protection on the land proposed for the Northern Regional Prison near Westbury.
The block at Brushy Rivulet on Birralee Road was among 10 properties purchased by the Tasmanian Government in the late 1990s, using $569,400 in federal funding.
The funds came from the National Reserve System program to use money gained from the sale of Telstra.
The land purchases had various requirements, including that they "must be legally protected", "managed in perpetuity" and "not used for any purpose other than in accordance with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) category specified in the funding deed".
But documents released under Right to Information show that in January 2019, the federal Environment Department told the Tasmanian Government that the Brushy Rivulet land did not have legal protection as required, based on an earlier audit.
It was the only one of the 10 properties that did not have legal protection yet.
In December last year, the federal Environment Department wrote to their Tasmanian counterparts detailing various aspects of the agreement, including that the land was purchased to protect inland peppermint gum.
"In terms of impediments to the prison proposal, I would like to restate that the Tasmanian Government has obligations in the agreements held between the Australian and Tasmanian government in respect to the property," Tia Stevens, from the department's biodiversity policy and water science branch, wrote.
"Protection of the values of the site in relation to the PFRP (Private Forest Reserve Program) is in perpetuity, in accordance with the financial agreement.
"The RFA (Regional Forest Agreement) does provide for minor variations to informal reserves, however any changes made to informal reserve boundaries must be made in accordance with clause 50A of the Agreement.
"In particular, these changes should only occur in accordance with the RFA and not lead to a deterioration in the representation of or protection of identified CAR values to below levels established by the Agreement in 1997."
DPIPWE's acting general manager of its natural and cultural heritage division, Martin Read, responded that the Tasmanian Government "has not received this advice" regarding variations to the Brushy Rivulet informal reserve.
And in April this year, the Environment Department requested a meeting with the Tasmanian Government to discuss legal protections for the land.
The meeting would include discussions about "protection of the site with a covenant or other legal mechanism", "how the site is being managed to protect environmental values" relating to peppermint gum, and "plans for the site".
Another item of discussion was the status of the properties, purchased using federal funds, that "are yet to be legally protected".
The Tasmanian Government confirmed this meeting occurred on May 20 and "discussions between the departments are ongoing", but did not provide any further information about what was discussed.
The meeting was requested two months after the federal Environment Department noted that it was receiving "regular requests for information" from residents and groups concerned about the proposal to build the prison.
The federal Environment Department did not respond to questions regarding what level of "legal protection" the Brushy Rivulet land required under the sale agreement, whether the construction of a prison would conform with conservation requirements and what action it could take if the Tasmanian Government failed to adhere to the agreement.
The Tasmanian Government did not respond to questions about whether using the land for a prison aligns with the requirements of the National Reserve System.
The government also did not respond to a question about when core testing drilling would recommence on the land, after it was delayed in October last year. The government initially blamed protesters for the delay, but police on the scene stated it was due to wet soil following heavy rain.
The RTI documents added another reason, previously undisclosed.
"The presence of threatened flora was more widespread at the site than previously recorded, and ... as such access to the proposed drill hole locations might impact on these plants," documents read.
On Wednesday, the Northern Regional Prison project team informed neighbouring residents that core test drilling would start "in coming weeks", with five or six holes, as part of its due diligence process.
Field naturalist Sarah Lloyd OAM said this work was planned before spring flora surveys were completed.
"I understand that the drilling will be on the hill upslope from the track. My observations last spring is this is a botanical hotspot covered in flowering native orchids and lilies," she said.
"There should be no work at the site until after the spring and summer surveys - if at all."
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