South Sister St. Marys, Tasmania

SOS withdraws from tribunal

It is with great regret and enormous disappointment that the SOS applicants had to withdraw late yesterday afternoon from the scheduled hearing at RMPAT with Foresty Tasmania.

The legislation (Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act (EMPCA)) required our experts to establish that landslip was 'likely'. On Wednesday September 30 Forestry Tasmania experts submitted a further three reports to the Tribunal which were then reviewed by our experts. As recommended by SOS experts in their earlier reports, further surveys had been carried out by Forestry, some of which partially satisfied one of our experts and he therefore had to change his opinion from 'likely to cause a landslip' to 'possibly cause a landslip'. His inability to hold the opinion 'likely to cause a landslip' was insufficient therefore for us to proceed to the Tribunal.

Although our remaining expert continues to hold his initial opinion that a landslide was likely if harvesting proceeded, his position was weakened and our legal team advised us to withdraw. Continuation of the hearing may have lead to an increased risk of bearing costs. The applicants had hoped to ask for an adjournment to gather further evidence however there was no justification for this and the Tribunal would probably have refused it.

Despite the withdrawal, a landslide risk remains if logging goes ahead and effects to groundwater are also possible. SOS therefore reject the statements made yesterday by Forestry Tasmania that 'the scientific evidence we provided clearly established that harvesting is sustainable' and '... SOS claims were not supported by science'.

In reports submitted by Forestry (initial planning documents and subsequent expert reports) many inaccuracies and inconsistencies have been noted and information was often biased and selective including final reports submitted last Wednesday. As late as this, experts presented maps which showed features inaccurately plotted. The 'graben' feature identified in April by SOS experts (with a recommendation to Forestry to survey) was only recently searched for by Forestry experts. Yet they incorrectly identified another structure which they described in detail followed by a lengthy defamation of SOS experts for identifying an old road rather than a 'graben'. Unfortunately they don't know that they identified the wrong feature!!!

Forestry has made it difficult for SOS throughout the legal process e.g. reports were not presented in electronic form and therefore hard copy reports submitted on Wednesday were not received by SOS' mainland expert until Thursday - only a few days before the Hearing was to begin giving little time to respond to their claims. In addition, Forestry's latest reports made mention of the coupe areas SOS sought to have excluded from the harvesting - apparently not correct legal protocol.

SOS plans to hold a media conference on Monday October 3 at 2pm at Salamance Inn, Hobart. SOS will present the history of the campaign which has now been going for 2 years and outline the deficiencies in the Forest Practices Code as well as various legislative acts e.g. Threatened Species Act, EMPCA Act. Our legal representatives will also provide legal details if required.

Despite SOS having evidence that a considerable risk exists that environmental nuisance will be caused, SOS have not been able to overcome the legislative constraints.

Forestry has responded to our withdrawal by confirming they will seek to recover costs. We hope the Tribunal will be fair and direct that both sides be responsible for paying their own costs otherwise it would be another blow to the SOS members who have fought so hard and long at incredible personal expense only to be beaten by legislation.

SOS will seek to vary the current Forest Practice Plan for the coupe in the coming weeks e.g. exclude the areas of subsidence from the harvestable coupe. As yet Forestry has not yet announced when they will begin logging.

Thanks to all of you for your support and interest over the past 2 years. It has been very comforting for those of us involved in the fight to have had so much support for our cause. We are naturally very disappointed and couldn't bear the thought of withdrawing knowing that we were not wrong and knowing that Forestry presented much evidence that was wrong, inconsistent or plain avoided the major issues. The legislation has failed us which is extremely frustrating so we hope for positive changes to allow for groups such as ourselves to have a level playing field in the future.

Our experts have been particularly marvellous volunteering to assist, providing their expertise to support us and even donating money to our cause. They have been alarmed that so many mistakes were made by Forestry and their experts, that corners were cut and arrogance prevailed. They too are disappointed that we have not been able to go to the Hearing.
- Ralph Rallings, an Engineer from Hobart has provided assistance tirelessly visiting the coupe several times, working hard and diligently to understand all the problems and encouraging and teaching us about the issues along the way.
- David Stapledon flew from Adelaide at his own expense, even donated money to our cause (as did Ralph) and spent days and days on the case even during times of ill health.
- David Leaman has been with us from the beginning of the fight and we have a lot to thank him for. He has made numerous site visits, given us enormous amounts of advice and provided us with information, reports and letters until the last minute.
- Owen Ingles has also been there for the long haul - supportive, encouraging and providing us with scientific evidence.
We owe them a lot as without them we would never have reached the Tribunal and we are extremely grateful.

For all the other experts who have assisted us with flora, fauna, insects etc we are also very grateful. Despite not being able to go to the Tribunal with this information, the reports were useful for the initial campaign.

The legal team has steered us through a difficult case and we thank them for their assistance.
Two barristers offered to assist us pro-bono for which we are most grateful - Roland Browne from Hobart and James Johnson from Sydney.
But the person we would like to thank the most is Jess from EDO (Environmental Defender's Office) who has worked tirelessly, diligently and has gone the extra mile many, many times. She is to be commended highly for her incredible and ongoing support to us.
The EDO Board agreed to provide SOS with 20 free hours which helps us with our costs and for that we are also grateful.

How can you support us?

Despite the withdrawal from the Hearing we will continue to fight to have other areas on the mountain range saved and we will continue to build up the scientific knowledge of the area with the help of other experts.

We are planning to have a 'debriefing' night in St Marys to explain to all our supporters the situation we came across. As yet the night has not been decided upon but it is very likely to be within the coming week.

Please check the homepage for more details during the week.

1st October, 2005

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