A PRIVATE landholder has been ordered to pay $11,000 in fines and court costs after pleading guilty in Coffs Harbour Local Court of illegally constructing a crossing over the Kalang River at Brierfield.
Department of Primary Industries director of fisheries compliance, Glenn Tritton, said the man constructed a low level vehicle crossing between two parts of his property without first obtaining any approvals from government authorities.
"Both DPI and Bellingen Shire Council had previously advised the man that approvals would be required to replace a crossing that had washed away in a flood," Mr Tritton said.
Important fish habitat was destroyed by the construction and the crossing created a barrier to fish movement
"A development application was submitted to council and DPI requested further information when assessing the application as the information provided was inadequate.
"The man subsequently constructed the crossing without approval and later withdrew the development application.
"Logs were placed across the river and backfilled with rock and gravel, including 19 tonnes of rock bought from a local quarry.
"He pleaded guilty to 'carrying out a reclamation without a permit' and 'obstruction of fish passage' and was fined $2000 on each count, plus was ordered to pay costs totalling almost $7000."
The magistrate found the works caused an actual and potential obstruction of fish passage, and there was demonstrable harm to fish due to the obstruction and loss of fish habitat.
The defendant's submission the works were done out of necessity and were less serious due to the presence of a pre-existing crossing or the location of other similar crossings in the area was rejected by the magistrate.
Mr Tritton said this was an important test case for works affecting fish passage that should serve as a significant deterrent to others considering such works.
"Important fish habitat was destroyed by the construction and the crossing created a barrier to fish movement," he said.
"A freshwater pool that had previously been around 1.5 metres deep was partially filled during construction, riverbank erosion was increased and important riparian vegetation immediately downstream was lost.
"More than 100 kilometres of the river and its tributaries upstream could be impacted by the crossing acting as a barrier to fish movement."
At the time of sentencing the man had partially complied with a remediation order to remove the materials placed across the river.
"Remediation has so far cost the man $1200. He is required to complete the full remediation of the site and DPI will ensure this occurs," Mr Tritton said.
"He has paid a high cost and caused significant damage for failing to follow a process that would have minimised impacts on the aquatic environment.
"This should serve as a warning to anybody planning to undertake earthworks near a waterway that they need to obtain the correct approvals before starting work."
Two advisory brochures for are available on the DPI Living and working on a riverbank web page.
Each outlines how private landholders planning to undertake works on inland or coastal waterfront properties can comply with the Fisheries Management Act 1994.
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