Alessia is a journalism and law student at UTS with an interest in health, travel and crime.
The new year has come with a renewed campaign to save a part of Sydney's rare and unique bushland from destruction.
Residents of Willoughby on Sydney's Lower North Shore, fear that a current proposal by the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS), could result in Flat Rock Gully Reserve becoming a construction site - in order to carry out tunnelling activities for the Beaches Link Tunnel.
President of the Willoughby Environmental Protection Agency (WEPA) Gay Spies says its loss would be a travesty: "for the community who love it, who use it, who work for it and not to mention the flora and fauna and environmental benefits".
Willoughby Greens candidate Daniel Keogh, is concerned that the reserve, which he says "feels like you are in a rainforest", will be turned into a dump site for soil.
"Every project that involves tunnelling needs a dive site that is convenient and not too far away so they can deposit all the stuff they are digging up," he said.
“It is easy to destroy it but it is very, very hard to bring it back and we feel that there are too many sacrifices in these projects."
The Beaches Link Tunnel would connect the Northern Beaches to Sydney's CBD. The proposal includes construction of 11 kilometres of tunnels and the upgrading of five kilometres of road surfaces.
A spokesperson for the RMS said that the Beaches Link will deliver an estimated 35 per cent reduction in traffic on Eastern Valley Way and 25 per cent reduction on the Roseville Bridge - and that the majority of construction activity would be underground, with temporary tunnel access and an acoustic shed erected over the site to contain noise and dust.
But Flat Rock Gully has been a dump site before. It's taken 25 years, over $1 million, and countless hours of volunteer work, for it to be rehabilitated and transformed.
If it became a construction site, there are also concerns it would be over landfill known to contain asbestos - potentially exposing the community to harmful toxins.
“You’re having trucks go through and disturb and demolish this land so you would be going towards that surface where those chemicals and materials were," Mr Keogh said.
This is the second time Gay Spies has defended Flat Rock Gully against destruction. She remembers the poor condition of the reserve prior to its regeneration.
“We don’t know what other toxic contaminants are in there; stuff was just chucked in there for decades, all sorts of stuff from car bodies to you name it,” she said.
Alongside the threat of asbestos contamination to nearby residences, watercourses, playing fields and courts - are fears of air pollution from three unfiltered exhaust stacks.
“The experience with WestConnex [is that there] has been huge odour problems from decomposing material - there’s methane, so air pollution is a very major thing.
“The pollution would not only be from the tail part of the vehicle but it also comes from the tyres and the road surface as well and so air pollution is a very serious health hazard that effects older people and younger people.”
Flat Rock Gully is now home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, which residents fear will be devastated by the noise, toxic dust, water contamination and air pollution.
"It will obliterate it. If you remove all habitat, you’re not going to have any," Ms Spies said.
WEPA has been working alongside Stop the Tunnels; a collaboration of local residents from a variety of backgrounds who have come together to educate the community and share information on the proposed Northern Beaches and Western Harbour Tunnels.
According to Stop the Tunnels, if construction goes ahead, residents may face an influx of heavy machinery on local streets with 70 trucks per hour entering the site; parks will be used for construction activities; contaminants will affect the air and waterways; there will be 24/7 noise from operations; increased parking difficulties and more.
Resident and Stop the Tunnels member, Larissa Penn, believes there are other viable, lower risk and sustainable alternatives such as improving Sydney’s public transport.
“In an era where we know so much about climate change, we need to be looking for best practice options that manage population growth whilst reducing our carbon footprint and protecting our environment,” she said.
“We can improve our congestion problem by improving public transport both within and outside our cities. Building additional capacity and reliability into our train systems will help spread our population and encourage employment centres to grow outside the CBD which will in turn reduce congestion.”
“The more we feed our car reliance, the more congested and polluted we will become.”
WEPA and Mr Keogh also believe that better public transport should be considered before expanding Sydney’s road infrastructure - and say this option was not considered seriously by the government.
“The cheaper, environmentally friendly approach is a Metro [and] having trains that run… with the growth of population, they are the only things capable of moving that many people per hour in a safe, low impact way and at a much cheaper cost,” Mr Keogh said.
Willoughby Mayor Gail Giles-Gidney and the council’s General Manager and Infrastructure Director were informed by the RMS last September that if Flat Rock Gully was chosen as the construction site, it would be returned to its original condition at the completion of the project.
But Ms Spies is unsure whether local councils are onboard with the community’s concerns.
“There is a possibility that after the tunnel is completed - if it ever gets on its way - it will not be returned to bushland but [instead] an indoor sports centre will be established on site," she said.
“All the councils are under pressure for more sporting fields in my personal opinion, [so they might] see this as an easy cop out.”
Ms Spies and WEPA are encouraging residents to keep protesting against the proposal in order to save Flat Rock Gully. Details of their regular meetings can be found on their website.
“The important thing is to keep the issue alive in people’s minds.” - Alessia Jeffery @Alessia_J96