Opinion: What those who love Margaret River and Gnarabup beach need to now about its future development

The West Australian

The proposed site of a five-star resort planned for Gnarabup

Do tourists visiting Margaret River’s stunning town beach Gnarabup and the family friendly surf breaks of Grunters, Gas Bay and Sewers know of the existence of what locals call a “poo farm”, which releases liquid waste just metres from the surging waves of the ocean?

Do they know that a proposed new resort and housing estate on the landmark Gnarabup headland will send more waste to this leaching sewage plant?

A plant that was once 375 metres from the ocean and is now, 25 years later, less than 200 metres, thanks to rising sea levels and intense winter storms.

A report done by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation in May this year shows the Gnarabup Waste Water Treatment Plant is contaminating the surrounding Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, Ngari Capes Marine Park and the popular Margaret River surf breaks and swimming beaches just metres from the plant.

The report states that nutrients and heavy metals are not being adequately monitored, and notes multiple examples of where levels of nitrate, E. coli and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, manganese and zinc in the ground and ocean samples exceed expected and acceptable Australian and international standards.

Do tourists visiting Gnarabup know they are entering an extreme bushfire risk area that has been recognised for its extreme fire danger area by both the local and State Government? It is an area with only one road in and out and escape by boat is often impossible due to large swells.

Would these visitors think it makes sense to put more people, and indeed the entire existing populations of Gnarabup and the nearby townsite of Prevelly Park, at increased risk from bushfire with further development in this difficult to access area?

Do visitors know that the stunning coastal heath, mature peppermint trees and nelaleuca on the site of a proposed resort and housing estate being developed by Luke Saraceni is currently home to critically endangered possums that are not expected to exist within 20 years, along with foraging habitat for the threatened Baudin’s and Carnaby’s black cockatoos?

Do they realise Gnarabup headland, long identified as of high environmental, visual and cultural value by countless government studies and policy documents could soon be cleared and covered in dense concrete buildings?

Buildings dug into the fragile limestone karst system, parking and large areas of lawn replacing the rolling coastal heath that currently reaches to the white cliffs over Margaret River’s one safe, protected swimming beach on a coast famous for its swells.

And would they know that the land on which the housing estate is planned contains an Aboriginal heritage place?

It is understood to have been used for tens of thousands of years to collect fresh water when local people came to fish for salmon at Gnarabup, collect shellfish and shelter in the caves of the limestone cliffs.

Do they know the developer is trying to argue the resort and housing estate shouldn’t be subject to Environmental Protection Authority assessment?

And that he is trying to rush the development through under the State Government’s temporary emergency COVID-19 pandemic planning laws under which developments are not required to comply with carefully considered local planning requirements?

This is the reality that those who love to visit Margaret River from Perth, wider WA and the world need to know.

The EPA will shortly open a seven-day public comment period asking whether it should assess the development of this site. We ask all readers to make a submission asking for the site to be assessed at the level of a Public Environmental Review.

Beth Carlessi is a spokesperson for the Preserve Gnarabup group.