City farms and small producers at threat from trade agreements

Last night I was reading something about the Australian Government’s new trade agreement with China and thinking about the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that the Abbott government has been salivating over in recent times.  That started a train of thought that went via Greece (the degree of resilience that connections many in the population still have with farms) and then to the opening up of Cuba to the US (and how that might impact their low input, small-scale farming).

This morning I opened up The Conversation and there’s an article on the way that better relations with the US might threaten Cuba’s “sophisticated urban and suburban food system [that is] producing healthy food, improving the environment and providing employment.” But what is under threat is more than that – the organic urban production model is being taken up in the countryside as well.

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The world still has many lessons to learn from urban and peri-urban agriculture in Cuba. Javier Ignacio Acuña Ditzel/Flickr, CC BY

The Cuban example has been an inspiration to many in both the developing and developed worlds, with two-way sharing of approaches to sustainable agriculture on pretty much a global basis.

The article paints a fairly detailed picture of the background and significance of Cuba’s current agricultural system, and the way that it has developed over more than 20 years, initially responding to the cut-off of Russian aid, including particularly fossil fuels.

Well worth reading, both for the detail on the Cuban approach and as material to think about in terms of the free trade arrangements that are proliferating internationally.  You might also want to check out the much more detailed background to Cuban agriculture in the 340 page publication Sustainable Agricultural Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba published jointly by Food First Books, ACTAF (Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians) and CEAS (Center for the Study of Sustainable Agriculture, Agrarian University of Havana)

Motocross traffic on Adare Road – we stand to lose more than you think

I’ve posted before about the unsuitability of Adare Road for large amounts of traffic.

There’s more to that issue and I’ll come back to it in another post.

There are unsuspected losses associated with traffic on Adare Road that we face if the proposed motocross development is allowed to go ahead.

One of these relates to the Gatton Light Horse Troop.  You might be familiar with their role in the Anzac Day celebrations in Gatton and other localities in the Lockyer Valley.

The Gatton Light Horse Troop in the Anzac Day parade in 2012.  A friend in Germany sent this to me, which shows how far the knowledge of our Light Horse Troop has spread.

The Gatton Light Horse Troop in the Anzac Day parade in 2012. A friend in Germany sent this to me, which shows how far the knowledge of our Light Horse Troop has spread.

What you wouldn’t know, unless you are out toward the end of Adare Road early on a Saturday or Sunday, is that the Horse Paddock beside Adare Road,on the right just before the Redbank Creek Crossing, is one of their training grounds.

It's a stirring sight to see them practising mounted military manoeuvres at full speed.

It’s a stirring sight to see them practising mounted military manoeuvres at full speed.

If there are up to 150 vehicles travelling down Adare Road on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the Horse Paddock will become unsuitable for Light Horse training exercises.

There’s another group in the community (this time a much wider community) who know of the Adare Road Horse Paddock.  They are the birdwatchers, and the trees and bushes around the edges of the Horse Paddock are one of several regular birding spots for many visitors.

Adare road has been visited with increasing regularity by local, Brisbane, interstate and overseas birders over the last 20 years.  The location features regularly in online lists of the interesting or rare species which have been seen there.

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Two of the visitors in this group were from Japan

It continues to be something of a ‘hot-spot’ where visitors can find a selection of scarcer species which can be difficult to locate elsewhere in the region.  The combination of open woodland, riparian vegetation where Redbank Creek crosses the road, open paddocks, and the dams along the road provides for a range of habitats and therefore bird species that isn’t easily found in a situation where it is easily viewable from the road. And there’s always the possibility of seeing a koala, especially at the Redbank Creek crossing.

There are many birdwatchers who visit Adare Road regularly, some every couple of months, some every week.  There are also bird clubs which make annual trips to the area.

A lot of the most interesting birding is done along the road verges, including along the sides of the Redbank Creek crossing.  Motocross traffic in the mornings and evenings (when most birders visit) is going to turn birdwatching along Adare Road into an extreme sport – not to mention being extremely unpleasant with all the dust and noise.  It can be pretty confidently predicted that the beginning of motocross traffic will be the beginning of the end of birdwatching on Adare Road.

Nice try. More work needed – and in another location, without all the people living nearby

The proposed motocross development at Adare could possibly, with a lot more work on the concept and the details, be a good idea.  But not at Adare.

It’s just  in the wrong location, even if judged only on the number of people impacted.

The Qld Moto Park at Wyaralong, on the other hand, is an example of a properly located motocross facility – there are only about 120 people living within 4km.  At the Adare site, here are 900 people living within 4km of the proposed motocross property, including a lot of young people who don’t need their nights and weekends blighted by motocross and traffic noise.

demographic table QMP vs Adare[1] Compiled using the 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census Data for the localities closest in proximity to the proposed development.  Where census data is not available at the necessary scale for a locality, extrapolations have been made from an adjacent locality close to the proposed development.
[2] Note: 0-19 years includes those aged 0-14 years.[3] Sources: http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/quickstats and Google Earth imagery and overlays to locate houses and properties within specified radii of the properties.

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The $4 million QMP (Queensland Moto Park) facility between Beaudesert and Boonah was developed through the efforts of the SEQ Council of Mayors, the SEQ Councils, and the State Government.

The LVRC Mayor, Steve Jones,  as the Chair of the SEQ Council of Mayors Trail Bike Task Force, played a significant part over a number of years in the development of the project.  The QMP Wyaralong facility is a well-planned site following strict design and operating criteria.

Clearly, even judging only by the number of dwellings and residents adjacent to the site, the location of the proposed Adare development has not been well planned.

MX tracks and their poor relationships with neighbours and local government

The quote below is from the introduction to a review of the relationships between motocross tracks and their neighbours and local government agencies.  The quote below is from the introduction to reviews of the histories of eight existing or proposed motocross tracks in America.

At the Oct 21 Conditional Use Hearing regarding the Thomas Conditional Use proposal for motocross/camping in rural Clackamas County, testimony was given in support of the proposal based on claims that motocross was “family friendly”. A man stated that Washougal MX had expensive homes in the vicinity of the MX tracks and that local residents and the commercial MX business had happy relationships.

Extensive research into the functioning and relationships multiple MX facilities, whether permitted or unpermitted, have with their neighbors and with their County planning departments proves conclusively that it is totally false to claim motocross events can happily co-exist with residential areas.

Every case I researched, including Washougal MX, proved that  residents within earshot of MX tracks are miserable and that they consider motocross a serious nuisance which steals their quality of life and degrades and pollutes land. Counties have extra work loads to enforce MX code infractions and have ongoing struggles related to traffic, crowd control, noise, and regulating environmental damage. Local police and emergency services are impacted as well.

Family-oriented

Any claims that the proposed Adare motocross track will be family oriented don’t take into account the impacts on families among the 900+ people living in the vicinity of the track.

Emergency Services

It’s worth noting the mention of impacts on police and emergency services as well.  That has also been the experience with the Black Duck Valley and the Wyaralong tracks in Southeast Queensland.

Noise as an Amenity Impact

There’s a nice quote from a county examiner (sort of like our LVRC Assessment Manager) in relation to noise [LVRC please note]:

pg. 24 item h. iii: “Even when the noise does not drown out conversation or disturb people sleeping or exceed 57 dbA, it increases the noise levels frequently enough and in amounts and for a duration that is enough to detract from the character of the area as rural residential. The examiner finds that such an impact is significantly detrimental to people nearest the site.”

Noise issues are NOT just about loudness as measured in decibels!  They are about loss of rural/natural amenity, and about stress and anxiety caused by ongoing, long-term exposure to noise which is not part of the local environment.

Loudness Requirements Can Stop Motocross

But, in terms of loudness of MX noise, the article quotes a complaint that: … imposed sound limitations that are so restrictive they effectively deny the permit application.”

As if the fact that MX operations can’t comply with mandated noise limits is somehow the fault of the legislators, or is a direct attack on MX as a business, instead of being a standard of what is reasonable noise in a particular environment.

Emu Creek track in the Tenterfield Council area is one example.  After a lot of time, court cases and expense the Tenterfield Council imposed noise and operating time limits on the motocross activities at Emu Creek, which they claim they could not meet from a business point of view.  They are still in business and seem to have moved to mountain bike and Bicycle MX activities to replace the motocross element of their custom.

It’s also worth noting that in the case of the Emu Creek motocross, Tenterfield Council monitored maximum noise levels [L(A)max], rather than averaged noise levels over a (usually long) period [L(A)eq], because they said it was more objective when long-term, long period noise was considered.  The Adare proponent’s Noise Study uses averaged noise levels, which always appear more favourable to the proponent’s case.

Costs to Council for Ongoing Compliance Action

The case studies refer to costs to all parties for the application (including appeals) procedures and for ongoing compliance.  In our own area, the Emu Creek case mentioned above is said to have cost the Tenterfield Council in excess of $66,000 for compliance monitoring and court costs before it stopped the noise nuisance.

Revealing a significant koala population in the Adare-Vinegar Hill area

Koalas are probably the most environmentally significant species that would be impacted by the establishment and operation of a motocross track on the Adare property.   Impacts will come from noise, vehicle strike and possibly vegetation clearing in Stage 2 of the development.

It’s funny how members of a community can individually recognise that they have an unusual number of koalas in their vicinity, but no one actually comes to the conclusion that there is an unusually large koala population in the local area.  This is another aspect of our environment/community that dealing with the motocross proposal has brought to the fore.

The database

For the last few weeks our group has been collecting incidental records of koala sightings in the area of bushland which is contiguous with the vegetation in the vicinity of the proposed Adare motocross track.

We now have 66 records of koala sightings for this area.  It may not look like 66 “pins” on the map, but that’s because at this scale many pins are hidden behind others.

These sightings are all within 5km of the motocross track, and almost all are within less than 4km.  The nearest is only 950 metres from the track.

All of these sightings are in vegetation types that occur on the motocross property and within 20-70 metres of the track.  These vegetation types are classified as Bushland Koala Habitat or as Essential Habitat for koalas.

Remember, these are incidental sightings. They are not the result of targeted surveys for koalas.  They are sightings that people happened to make while they were doing other things, and which they have some record of.  People don’t tend to look up in trees when they are working on their land.  Even if they do, koalas are pretty cryptically marked.  They have colours which tend to blend with the bark of trees and the dark shadows in thick foliage, and they even have lighter patches around their rear ends, so that their silhouette is broken up when seen against the sky from below.  Most people never see a koala when they are walking through the bush.

Our data collection is not yet complete.  The properties where there are no koala records are almost all ones where we haven’t yet tried to collect information or where we don’t have access.

The Road-kill Threat

Death by vehicle strike is among the three greatest threats to koala populations in Southeast Queensland.

Adare Road runs from the big dam just to the right of bottom centre in the map vertically (north) to the entrance to the motocross track. There are more than 30 records of koalas within 250 metres of Adare Road (four of these are of koalas crossing the road, and one is of a dead koala on the road).

Koalas are active at night, and that’s when they will be crossing the road.  Imagine the number of road-killed koalas there will be if there is motocross traffic on Adare Road four to six nights per week!

Comparison Between Our Data and the Government Database

The WildNet database has been built up by the State government over a number of years. It contains records of wildlife sightings and listings of plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, freshwater fish, sharks and rays, butterflies and other priority invertebrates in Queensland.

The wildlife lists are based on collated species lists and wildlife records from Queensland Government departments and external organisations. The data sources include:

  • specimen collections;
  • research and monitoring programs;
  • inventory programs including extension activities;
  • literature records;
  • wildlife permit returns; and
  • community wildlife recording programs.

WildNet at present has 65 records of koalas within 10km of the motocross track.  In only a few weeks members of our group, with the cooperation of the local community, have gathered 66 records within 5km of the track.  That’s a fantastic effort, and it’s not finished yet.

It’s not that the koalas weren’t there before – just that this is a big State and there has never been sufficient resources to carry out the necessary surveys at the scale we need for dealing with local government planning applications.

Ultimately our records will go into the WildNet database and into the privately funded Koala Tracker database.

Life throws some strange curve balls at times

Since 7 December last year our lives have been totally dominated by the prospect of a motocross track being built just 2.7km from our house – and even closer than that to the houses of others in the Vinegar Hill-Adare community here in the Lockyer Valley.

We’ve been told that there were 234 submissions lodged with the Lockyer Valley Regional Council in relation to the proposal.  232 of them were against the establishment of a motocross track in the area.  That’s a fantastic achievement for a community that had only 15 business days to respond to the advertising of the proposal.

I’ve been trying to find time to get back to this blog and to posting about our doings on the land here, but it just doesn’t happen.  Today I’ve come to the realisation that this blog is about sustainability, mainly in the Lockyer Valley, but really what happens here is a microcosm of what happens everywhere in the developed world in terms of ultimate sustainability of lifestyle, community, the environment, and indeed the future of humanity.  How we, including our local and state governments, respond to totally wrong-headed proposals like this motocross track is all about whether our society, locally or globally, will be sustainable.

Is the community going to be trashed for the sake of a minority (almost all from outside the area) who want to get their thrills by driving powerful, noisy and dangerous machines around and around on a circuit?  Is the environment going to be trashed for the same purpose?

Is the community going to be trashed because some profit-oriented developer thinks he has the right to change the nature of the area and introduce a totally incompatible activity into our rural landscape?

Is a pristine creek (Redbank Creek, which has all of its catchment above the motocross property in National Park) and its surroundings going to be allowed to be trashed?

Are we going to allow a significant koala population to be degraded by noise impacts from the track and road-kills from the massive increase in traffic on the country road leading to the proposed motocross site?

Are we going to allow the bird population and its significant species to be similarly trashed?

If we do then that’s not sustainability.  And sustainability is what this blog is supposed to be about.  So I ask you to follow us and our community on this journey, and be understanding if there are few posts on this site for at least the next couple of months about sustainable food production.

Thanks. It will be an interesting ride.

Motocrossed

2_Google Earth screen shot_SMALL_with distances to dwellings etc

Distances from the motocross property to selected dwellings in the area

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last month.  On December 7th we got a call from a friend in our area who had just found out that there had been an application to establish a motocross park about 2.7km (about 2 miles) from us.

It had actually been advertised by public notice in our local paper, a week or so before, but no one we know had seen it.  As a result, we had only 11 days to lodge objections to the planning department of our local government (Lockyer Valley Regional Council).

From that point on everything else in our lives was put on hold.  For about a week we got by on around four hours’ sleep per night, and in the last month we’ve only completely stopped working on this on Christmas day.

A fantastic group of people from the area and wider came together to oppose the motocross track in our area.  If you ever want to create community quickly, drop something like this on a neighbourhood.  We now have a much wider circle of friends and a community group that is actively fighting this proposal and has already started on longer term projects like a neighbourhood Koala monitoring program.

The period for public comment closed on December 18th.  We don’t know the total number of objections that were lodged, but we know of at least 200 that were delivered to the Council offices.  An amazing effort to galavnize that much support in 11 days.

We calculated that there are more than 900 people living within 4km of the motocross property, so that’s a lot of people to be affected by the noise and other impacts.

As you can see from the above map, this is a rural area, where zoning is largely Rural Uplands, Rural Agricultural, Rural General or Rural Residential.  Not the sort of place where you’d put a noisy motocross development with high traffice levels (up to 150 vehicles/hour) on narrow rural roads.

Our community has established a website and an online petition.  Please, have a look at the website and sign the petition (you can also link to it from the website), and leave a comment about motocross noise on the petition, particularly if you’ve ever been exposed to it.