An eco-tourism project along the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail which will deliver positive economic and environmental outcomes will go ahead after the Australian Walking Company and local environmental groups reached an agreement and settled the matter in the Supreme Court.
The partnership comes with the support of the SA Government which worked with the two parties and other community stakeholders in a process to reimagine visitor experiences on Kangaroo Island.
Australian Walking Company has now received approval to build eco-sensitive accommodation pods along the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail after making changes to their original plans.
The development approval reflects the agreement established with all the parties and ensures that Native Vegetation Clearance conditions including pre-clearance surveys and threatened species management plans are undertaken prior to any development onsite.
Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs said that reaching agreement between the parties was an important and necessary step in progressing this eco-tourism project for Kangaroo Island.
“Following last year’s devastating bushfires and the ongoing impact of COVID-19, it is so important that Kangaroo Island’s economy and tourism ventures are given every opportunity to generate local jobs, in an environmentally sustainable way,” Minister Speirs said.
“In June last year the Marshall Liberal Government announced up to $52 million of works to rebuild and reimagine Kangaroo Island’s nature-based tourism economy and this agreement is very much in keeping with that objective.
“While it’s true that in coming to this agreement there have been differences along the way, what’s been so encouraging is that all stakeholders have finally been willing to make concessions to come to a mutually beneficial partnership.
“This is an exciting development for Kangaroo Island and I look forward to this project becoming a reality after constructive cooperation between Australian Walking Company, local environmental groups Eco Action and Friends of Parks.
“The State Government wants to see projects such as these provide a conservation dividend where they not only have minimal impact on the environment, they also actively contribute to practical environmental outcomes.”
Minister for Planning Vickie Chapman said the Australian Walking Company project will have significant benefits for Kangaroo Island.
“The last year has been tough for the island’s community, with its economy taking a significant hit,” Minister Chapman said.
“I am pleased this matter has been resolved and congratulate all parties for reaching an agreement.”
Australian Walking Company Managing Director Neil Lynch said, “We believe the positive variations we have made to our Kangaroo Island walking product will achieve a good outcome for Kangaroo Island while providing a tourism experience South Australia will be proud of. We have continued to focus on our stakeholder consultations locally and this fantastic outcome highlights how commercial operators can work hand in hand with community groups to find a solution which is beneficial overall”.
It has now been announced that the aim is for construction on the eco pods to begin later this year with the hope of welcoming customers in mid 2022.
Eco-Action spokesperson Fraser Vickery said that the main environmental objections were, among other things, that there had been minimal public consultation and that the accommodation pods needed to be located close to the trail to lessen the environmental impact.
“Most of our objections have been addressed through the recent consultation process and it’s pleasing that concessions made include AWC replacing the Sandy Creek campsite with a new site at Rocky River which gets the accommodation back to the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail,” Mr Vickery said.
In addition, there will be a significant reduction in the number and extent of new access tracks with pre-existing tracks now being used where possible.
Mr Vickery said that the agreement had also delivered a funding commitment for post fire recovery projects in Flinders Chase.
“It’s also encouraging that in the spirit and the intent of the partnership there is a funding commitment from the Department for Environment and Water to deliver these important and necessary post-fire recovery projects to support threatened species and ecosystems in partnership with the two key environment groups on the Island” Mr Vickery said.
“The work of members of Eco-Action, Friends of Parks and our supporters in the community throughout this long process must be recognised. We are now entering into a process to draft a new management plan for Flinders Chase and this plan must be based on the fact that the primary management objective for the park is to conserve biodiversity.”
In line with the partnership between the Department for Environment and Water, environmental groups and the Australian Walking Company, the previous development approvals have been cancelled.
This now paves the way for the parties to move forward and work together to progress the AWC development proposal and post fire recovery projects in accordance with what has been agreed.