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Plans for Kangaroo Island eco-lodges to be pursued despite bushfires levelling Flinders Chase

Babajide

Jan. 22, 2020

Controversial plans to build accommodation in a Kangaroo Island (KI) national park remain in place despite the region being levelled by bushfires, while Supreme Court proceedings launched by opponents will likely be delayed until June.
Australian Walking Company (AWC) was last year given approval to develop two new accommodation lodges within Flinders Chase National Park for tourists walking its KI Wilderness Trail — a 61-kilometre walking trail that opened in 2016.
But even though the national park was levelled in this summer's bushfires , AWC executive director Neil Lynch said it would have taken two years for the Wilderness Lodge project to be completed anyway — thanks to court proceedings that could take six months to complete once they begin.
A bid to block the development was last year lodged by the KI Eco-Action Group, which wants a judicial review into the State Commission Assessment Panel's decision to give development consent to AWC's proposal .
"At the moment, we hold valid approvals for the same development in the same way," Mr Lynch told ABC Radio Adelaide's Breakfast program.
"What we've agreed to, at the state's request, is to pause while we concentrate on what's important at the moment, which is dealing with the fires and supporting the local community while it rebuilds.
"If the park is going to start showing signs of regeneration within two to three years, as we've been told, we were on that timeframe anyway, so it's important to keep that in perspective when looking at what's happened."
Mr Lynch refuted claims it was too dangerous to build the eco-sensitive accommodation in a park that had been wiped out by a bushfire.
"Working in consultation with local experts, as we have in SA, and the local fire authorities, we believe we can manage that risk," Mr Lynch said.
"Importantly … you don't stay to defend. You evacuate and evacuate early and leave behind the buildings."
Photo The Kangaroo Island bushfires damaged more than 200,000 hectares of land.
Court action to press ahead
KI Eco-Action Group spokesman Fraser Vickery said their main issue with the lodges was their scale and location.
"The developments are not where they were originally proposed, and there are issues around the planning approval process," he said.
The approved accommodation, which includes modular sleeping pods and suspended flooring, is to be located more than two kilometres off the Wilderness Trial and potentially in sight of users at Sandy Beach.
Photo Up to 10 two-person pods were to be placed on the headland near Sandy Beach.
Mr Vickery said they would be fronting up to a Supreme Court hearing Thursday morning where it was expected that their case to put an injunction on any works would be adjourned until June.
He said many in the group had also opposed the Southern Ocean Lodge — located outside the park — due to the "impact on the wilderness and the fire risk".
The luxury tourism lodge had to be evacuated before it was destroyed in the Ravine fire, which was only just announced as officially contained on Tuesday after burning for three weeks.
"There are all sorts of risks associated with these developments, in this climate, in this wilderness," Mr Vickery said.
Video 1:30 Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island after fire ripped through
Minister to revisit proposal
SA Environment Minister David Speirs said there had been a "fair bit of angst" about the Wilderness Lodge project and the fires had given him a chance as the "responsible minister to step back and say, let's take a good look at this again".
"The project was to progress throughout 2020 and that won't be the case now because the landscape and the place where that was going to be is completely different," he said.
"It's completely burnt."
Mr Speirs said the project had become "messy" and "divisive".
"Given the extent of community angst and unhappiness, we are talking with AWC about stepping back, taking a good look at this project and what it will look like going forward," he said.
"I don't think you'll ever get everyone onside with a project like this because some people just believe national parks shouldn't be places where accommodation is built, but I think we can work through this and get a better outcome."
Eco-lodge location 'changed'
Member for Mawson Leon Bignell said that, as the former tourism minister under Labor, he and his colleagues had walked through the original site where the developments were to be built.
"People over here, including the Friends of the Parks and the green group, were in favour of the original locations of these pods," Mr Bignell said.
"But somewhere after we went into caretaker mode [ahead of the 2018 state election], and David Speirs and the [Steven] Marshall Government emerged on the other side, there's been some kind of change.
"There were changes made between the public servants and the walking company."
Photo Friends of Parks KI Western Districts on strike in protest at the accommodation.
He said Mr Speirs needed to talk with the Friends of the Parks and "get the peace pipe out" and "get it back on track to where they [the pods] were originally going to be".
"This is actually a chance where we can wipe the slate clean and get something that suits everyone, which is what politics is all about — trying to find a compromise," Mr Bignell said.
Mr Lynch said the wilderness lodges were a long-term project and if it required more discussion with the people of Kangaroo Island and SA, the company would participate.
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