MIA: Has the new Minister visited the site of the bypass?
THE new minister in charge of the Coffs Harbour Bypass has avoided a number of straight forward questions in relation to the project.
Paul Toole took on the newly created portfolio of Minister for Regional Transport and Roads following the March 23 State election.
Previously it was Melinda Pavey's responsibility as Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight.
With the community eagerly awaiting the EIS due at the end of the month, and with fears a genuine 2020 start date could be in jeopardy, the Advocate requested an interview with Mr Toole.
Instead of an interview, the Minster's office suggested we email some questions, one of which was: Has he visited Coffs to check out the site ?
A week later there was still no response to this direct question with the Minister simply saying he has met with State Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh and the Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan, who are "both strong advocates on behalf of their communities for the project".
In relation to concerns the start date will be pushed back we asked:
Is it likely there will be a genuine 2020 start date and not just a ceremonial sod turning ?
Minister Toole's office answered:
"It is our goal to commence construction in 2020, with the bypass open to traffic in 2024."
The Minister also declined to say if he would work with the RMS to ensure the EIS would be out by the promised mid-year deadline.
EIS stands for Environmental Impact Statement.
The RMS has a duty by law to consider the impacts of its activities on the environment.
"An EIS is an assessment of the known impacts of a preferred design on the biophysical, social and economic environment," Coffs Bypass Action Group (CBAG) spokesman Rod McKelvey said.
An EIS should contain the design in full including tunnels, bridges and interchanges and all the individual reports from noise and visual amenity through to Aboriginal cultural heritage and socio-economic impacts.
"The EIS due to be released at the end of this month, should be the three-tunnel concept design that was promised again and again to this community," Mr McKelvey said.
During the feedback process (submission closed on November 30 last year) to their cuttings design, RMS received over 800 submissions from the community which identified a large number of concerns about impacts that any design would have on the community.
"In response to community feedback, the project team is investigating tunnels, lowering the gradient of the alignment, and noise-reducing pavement," Minister Toole's statement said.
Once the EIS has been put on display, the RMS is obliged to provide the Coffs Harbour community with sufficient time and a variety of options to comment on all aspects of the design. They must also provide a clear process for how those comments will be addressed.