Remediation of LT Creek at Fassifern

26th September 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:12): LT Creek is a relatively short but significant waterway that flows into Lake Macquarie via Fennell Bay in my electorate. It is an important and substantial local catchment which has become significantly impacted by sedimentation over time. It has been a matter of concern to locals for many years as well as to Lake Macquarie City Council. One of the most vocal in calling for remediation of the watercourse is local resident John Paul Young. John has been an active community campaigner for LT Creek and he has invested a significant amount of his time in trying to see the waterway restored to something resembling its original and natural condition.

Coalmining has been a significant activity in the LT Creek catchment since 1887. In fact, Newstan Colliery has operated in the area for 130 years and for most of that time it was owned and operated by the State Government. As a legacy of those historic mining operations, sediment deposits in the upper tidal reaches have resulted in poor aquatic health, which impacts on other areas downstream. The creek currently appears as a brown and murky waterway but it was not always that way. Long-time residents who live on the creek will tell you that as recently as the 1980s the water was clear, the creek bottom was sandy and the creek was filled with aquatic life. It was an important part of the lake's overall ecosystem.

As concern for the creek grew, some 10 years ago Lake Macquarie council commissioned the LT Creek Water Quality Management Plan. That study recognised that the creek suffers from high levels of suspended sediment and that sediment both clogs the creek and has impacts on the lake and bay further downstream. A lot of that sediment came from unsealed tracks around the creek's catchment and significant run-off from the Newstan Colliery, which is now owned by Centennial Coal. It should be noted that Centennial Coal has invested significantly in controlling that run-off in recent years. The company has installed water quality control dams and diversion structures on their land and has stabilised run-off areas and remediated habitat.

The possibility of dredging the creek was the subject of a subsequent report commissioned by the council in 2013. The report found that the high levels of silt and sediment in the creek were the main reason for the decline in aquatic vegetation and seagrasses and the poor water quality. While acknowledging that dredging carried some risk to the remaining aquatic fauna—namely to eels, mud crabs and mullet—the report found that dredging would vastly improve the overall ecosystem and water quality if it was combined with a sustained management plan. It would also promote the regeneration of aquatic life in the creek and reopen it for recreational use. The council, along with me and the local community, has long sought funding assistance from the State for the dredging project but has failed mainly because funding for dredging projects gives priority to waterways with navigation issues over addressing environmental impacts of mining and associated legacy issues.

About $1.6 million is needed for the dredging project, with no ongoing costs. It has been calculated that this project would not only rectify the historic mining impacts but also provide significant benefits to the local environment, to boating and to recreational amenities as well as to maximising a return on previous investments in water quality, which has so far amounted to $22 million. Most recently the council sought a $1.5 million contribution from the Resources for Regions fund but was unsuccessful. This was disappointing because the Lake Macquarie region has contributed significantly to that fund through coal royalties drawn from the likes of the Newstan, Mandalong and Myuna coalmining operations, which are located in the Lake Macquarie electorate.

I first raised the issue of LT Creek in the Parliament five years ago. The community and I are disappointed that nothing has been done to rectify the problem. I am hopeful that raising the issue again will restart a conversation between the council and the State Government and a move towards a resolution. The groundwork has been done and a plan is in place but support from the State is needed, not just financially but through expertise from the Environment Protection Agency and the Department of Primary Industries. I thank Centennial, the Newstan?Awaba Community Consultative Committee, of which John Paul Young is a member, and its chairperson, Margaret MacDonald-Hill, for their ongoing advocacy for LT Creek. We have done amazingly well as a community to remediate the incredibly important estuary system that is Lake Macquarie. Taking part in the process will be one of my proudest legacies when I am gone. Our treatment and management of LT Creek is clearly a failure. It needs to be fixed for local residents and for the environment.

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