Fourteen endangered fauna species and hundreds of historic Indigenous artifacts have been found at the site for a proposed wind farm on Brown Mountain.
Granite Hills Wind Farm, comprising 32 turbines, has been proposed for Steeple Flat, 12km south-east of Nimmitabel, the site adjoining the South East Forests National Park and Glenbog State Forest
A referral prepared by infrastructure consultants SMEC for the Department of Environment and Energy (DoEE), found the development of the Granite Hills Wind Farm was “likely to have a significant adverse impact” on the white-throated needletail, due to the possibility of disrupting the species’ life cycle in an area frequently used as a key migration route.
Known to be “particularly susceptible to blade strike”, it states every year at the site an “internationally significant” proportion of the needletail’s population foraged and migrated at rotor height.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Granite Hills project team said they were dedicated to avoiding and mitigating impacts on local flora and fauna at the 2000ha site at Steeple Flat.
To minimise the impact on endangered flora and fauna species the team was considering deletion of certain turbines and access roads, as well as movement of others.
“The project team is working to design the wind farm in a manner that if possible, avoids interaction with the white-throated needletail entirely,” they said.
They said further detailed ecological survey work by an independent specialist recently began to build a greater understanding of bird and bat flight patterns and usage of the wind farm site.
Nine EPBC Act 1999-listed species – three vulnerable and six migratory – were detected at the site during the survey effort undertaken by the independent ecological consultant in 2016-2018.
“For developments of this scale, it is not uncommon to identify multiple listed species,” the spokesperson said.
“[M]odifications are currently occurring to the wind farm layout to avoid impacts on the only EPBC-listed plant species detected on site, parris pomaderris.”
They said two more EPBC-listed species were not detected at the site during surveys, but were assumed to be present at times based on previous records.
David Williams, owner of neighbouring property Stonehenge, thought the referral “threw a spanner in the works” for the development.
“In our lifetimes we’ve already seen a massive loss of bird life, mainly due to drought,” he said.
The spokesperson said the project team would consider the response provided by the DoEE to the referral and the ensuing requirements would inform further development.
Artifacts find indicates ‘intensive occupation’
Thirty-five Indigenous Australian heritage places have been recorded at the proposed site for a wind farm on Brown Mountain.
A referral states this includes 679 stone artifacts, one culturally modified tree and five potential archaeological deposits, which were located during surveys at the Steeple Flat site last year.
It is planned the Granite Hills Wind Farm, a joint venture between Australian company Willy Willy and French company Akuo Energy, will have 32 wind turbines and cover 2000ha when built.
Out of the all proposed locations for the turbines, the referral assessed 25 as having “high potential” for underground archaeological material.
Further on it states while the development site was regarded as a “transitional landscape” through which the traditional owners moved from the coast to the high plains, the surface archaeology it recorded suggests a “more intensive occupation”.
A spokesperson for the Granite Hills project team said a detailed survey methodology was being prepared by an independent heritage consultant in consultation with the local Indigenous community and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).
They said the team would “consider” the recommendations from this report when reviewing the final wind farm layout, with the aim to minimise disruption to important Indigenous Australian sites and artifacts.
“The further detailed survey work would inform the presence of artifacts within proposed turbine footprints,” they said.
Where impacts cannot be avoided, an application would be made for an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit to the OEH.
Also, an Unexpected Finds Protocol would be established before construction commenced to ensure any unidentified artifacts are secured and appropriately managed in accordance with statutory obligations.
The spokesperson said Indigenous Australian representatives from the local community who assisted with the survey “were not aware of or did not communicate” any particular significance of the project area regarding cultural heritage.
“Therefore, the presence of scatters found was higher than expected compared [to] what was initially understood as likely to be present,” they said.
A full environmental impact statement is expected to be submitted to the NSW government as part of the application for approval of the project late this year or early 2019.
Construction of the wind farm was estimated to start towards the end of 2020.
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