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.

Wicking pot maintenance and a recycling experiment

Over the last few weeks I’ve been gradually doing some “maintenance” on the wicking pots.  They have been a bit neglected since we started getting good rainfall at the end of last summer.  I had a lot of work to do to construct raised beds in the shade tunnels, and over winter these were generally more productive than the wicking pots as well as representing a much larger surface area for food production.

However the low rainfall over winter, and the lack of any signficiant rain for nearly three months has meant that we have to start managing our water supply (all rainwater in tanks) even more carefully than usual.  I’ve almost stopped watering the raised beds, and at least half of them are under a thick layer of barley straw, with nothing growing in them. It’s at times like this that the wicking pots come into their own.

The ongoing maintenance of the wicking pots amounts to regular fertilizing with alternating applications of worm tea (diluted to 50%), cow manure tea (10%), and (especially for leafy crops) diluted urine (10%).  They also get occasional surface applications of the sludge from the cow manure tea production, and of course regular topping up of their mulch to control evaporation.

Over time I find that the soil in the pots becomes somewhat “compacted”, and some crops establish such a dense root mass that it is nearly impossible to dig into the soil.  These issues are evident from a gradual decrease in their productivity and in the “health” of the plants.

Thai Basil_Wicking Pot_P1020245_20141119_small

Thai Basil and Spring Onions. The basil has already gone to seed after a long period of lush growth. After harvesting the seeds I pruned it to stimulate some new growth, so as to get more production before I am ready to replenish the soil.

Spring Onions_Wicking Pot_P1020244_20141119_small

I’m not sure how long these Spring Onions, Clumping Leeks and Clumping Shallots have been in this pot – it’s certainly more than 18 months. They’ve been harvested regularly by cutting the stems off at soil level. Now they’re starting to look a bit tired, so I’ll replenish their soil in the coming weeks.

For these reasons I like to take out the soil every 12-18 months and combine it with a mix of sandy loam from the drains on our access track, chipped horse manure, and fresh compost.

Wicking Pot_mint&kangkung_P1020239_20141119_small

This pot was rejuvenated in early September (about 12 weeks ago) and planted with Kang Kung (Ipomoea aquatica) and Mint (on the left, partly obscured by the asparagus). Both have grown rather extravagantly, the Kang Kung more so than the mint because it responds to harvesting by becoming even more productive. The Mint was a bit of a mistake because I just noticed that it is popping up throughout the whole top of the pot – that’s what mint does, I just forgot about it. I removed the mint after taking the photo.

The experiment mentioned in the heading of this post refers to an attempt to find a way of using discarded “florist pots”.  These come in various sizes and are like an overly tall plant pot without any drainage holes.  Florists keep their cut flower stock in them.  They are too tall to use as plant pots because the top of the soil gets dry while the bottom is still saturated.  So I thought I’d do a quick experiment to see how they go as wicking pots.  I just drilled four drainage holes around the sides about 250mm from the top, stuck a 500mm bit of offcut plastic water pipe down the side, filled up to this line with charcoal (leaving a depression so that the soil layer extends below the drainage holes) covered it with geotextile and added potting mix.

All I had available to plant in them was some Lemon Grass that I had to move out of a raised bed, so I put single stems of that into three of these wicking pots and also into three normal plant pots.  Four weeks later two of the wicking pots have thriving clumps of Lemon Grass (the third has been a bit slow to get going) whereas in the normal plant pots it is struggling to survive.  All have been given applications of diluted urine.

Lemongrass_Wicking Pot_P1020261_small

Lemon Grass thriving in a simple wicking pot. One of the four drain holes is visible. I won’t leave it in this pot because it isn’t wide enough to let the Lemon Grass grow into a large and productive clump, but it shows that the principle works.

The “funnel” makes it easier to fill the intake and also helps to reduce evaporation.  It’s a recycled thread spool from Reverse Garbage in Brisbane.

You can see my original long post on making wicking pots here and a modification of that design here.

Do you have any novel ways to share for making or using wicking pots?  What kinds of veg do you find grow well in them?

 

 

 

A different approach to renewable energy generation

An investor-owned power utility in the northwestern USA state of Idaho (population 1.6 million – South East Queensland has 3.3 million) could add 461 megawatts of solar-generating capacity to its system by 2016. If all of those plants are built, Idaho Power would have a total of 1,253 megawatts of new green power on its grid, said Brad Bowlin, an Idaho Power spokesman. Last year, Idaho’s peak load was 3,407 megawatts in July, which would make green power 37 percent of its system.And that’s not counting the 1,700 megawatts Idaho Power can produce at its hydroelectric dams.

First Wind, a Boston energy company recently purchased by a bigger solar firm, has signed contracts to sell power from five solar-generation projects in Idaho. Pictured here is the company’s first solar project in Warren, Mass. [link to original article. Photo by First Wind]

Developers have signed contracts to sell electricity to Idaho Power from the 16 projects in Idaho and Oregon under a federal law that requires the utility to buy power to encourage small and alternative energy producers at the same rate it would cost the utility if it had to build its own, new natural gas plant.  That is, instead of getting a subsidy, the renewable energy projects are seen as helping to avoid the construction of new gas-fired power stations, or to put it another way, they are forced to compete on price with a notional new gas-fired power plant.

This results in the renewable energy companies being paid for the electricity at what is called the “avoided cost” rate. Even with the low cost of natural gas, solar-panel prices have dropped so much that developers can make money by earning the avoided-cost rate, even while paying to connect to Idaho Power’s grid and paying the utility the cost of providing backup power sources when the sun goes behind clouds. They also can make the projects work without counting on the sale of renewable energy credits.

Why can’t this work in Australia?  Are we lacking in imagination?  Are we being told lies about the competitiveness of renewable energy generation?  Is there a concerted attempt at State and Federal levels to look after friends with fossil-fuel fired generation plants?  Is it because too many of our governments own electricity generation or power distribution assets?

What about coal-fired power plants in Idaho?  Well, Idaho Power, the utility that has signed up for the solar powered electricity, owns two coal-fired power plants in Wyoming and Nevada in partnership with other utilities, but it is phasing out the coal plants gradually, so as not to risk the stability of its system and to avoid extra costs to its ratepayers.

Source:  Barker, R. (2014). Idaho Power: Ready to become a green giant? Idaho Statesman November 19, 2014Idahostatesman.com. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/11/19/3494880_idaho-power-ready-to-become-a.html?sp=/99/1687/&rh=1  Click on the link for the whole article.