A 60-YEAR-OLD man who cleared 255 trees in a koala habitat on his Main Arm property will have to pay $210,000 in fines and legal fees.
Christopher McIlrath was found guilty of the removal and destruction of the trees while carrying out road development without consent.
McIlrath, who did not front Byron Bay Local Court this week because he was in East Timor, did the work on his property without the consent of the Byron Shire Council.
Magistrate Jeff Linden fined him a total of $150,000 for the offences, while the council, represented by lawyer Ralph James, was awarded professional costs. McIlrath was ordered to pay its $60,000 legal bill.
McIlrath’s actions were contrary to the Tree Preservation Order under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. It included the destruction of seven threatened and rare species of trees.
In council evidence before the court, the two offences took place in February, 2007, when earthworks were done in the construction of a road without council consent.
The charges were instigated after a neighbour complained to council on February 5, 2007, about a bulldozer making a road through a property owned by a multiple occupancy group known as Kohinoor Pty Ltd.
Mr James said there had been a single person walking track – a ‘snigging track’ left over from logging days that the bulldozer with ‘an 11ft blade’ had widened.
In a statement before the court from Mr James, a council officer who met McIlrath at the scene near an ‘idling’ yellow Komastsu bulldozer was told by the property owner he was ‘upgrading an old track’ and had received ecological advice there were no threatened species or other ecological issues that needed to be addressed.
When council officers returned two days later a new road had been built with trees removed. A significant number of native trees had been pushed completely over and stacked along the side of the road.
Businessman Barry Harding, of Uki near Murwillumbah, who operates Hardings Earth Moving, was fined $17,500 after pleading guilty to his role in the removal of the trees.
Harding told the council officer that his company was doing road construction and earthworks on the orders of McIlrath who was paying for the work.
Despite a council request to stop all work on February 7 the council officer observed two days later that many rainforest species had been destroyed.
A road had been constructed on a steep slope, crossing a number of steep gullies, leaving significant amounts of exposed soil.
In his defence Harding said he did not know trees on the track were covered by a tree preservation order.
Mr James stated Byron Shire Council had been unable to find any development consents or other relevant approvals for earthworks, tree removal or road works for the property.
The only council approved plans had been in 1991 to allow a six-site multiple occupancy.
An independent environmental report by research scientist Robert Kooyman of the damage identified a total of 255 trees greater than 3m in length as being destroyed (mortalities) along the road construction impact site and adjacent areas.
“The clearing and disturbance is likely to have a significant and deleterious effect on both the lowland rainforest and associated plant species,” his report stated.
Speaking outside the court Mr James said the compliance department of the council was being ‘vigorous’ in the prosecution of people who damaged the environment without obtaining relevant development consent.