Rubbish, stolen cars and bike riders ruin Port Gawler
By Lauren Parker
Motorcyclists are treating the Port Gawler conservation park as a motocross track, damaging fences, destroying vegetation and ignoring the law.
Added to this is rubbish dumping, burnt out stolen vehicles, and destruction of the fragile coastal environment.
The Plains Producer visited the area last Wednesday to witness the destruction first hand.
Rubbish is dumped in the middle of the road and fences cut, flattened and incapable of preventing access to bikes.
At the old wharf, just metres away from a still-smouldering (and presumably stolen) vehicle sit three kingfishers – testament to the area’s importance as a breeding ground for hundreds of bird species.
The Port Gawler area is a known bird watching area, but unfortunately, is just as well known as a destination for those wanting to ride their motorbikes – often unregistered – off road.
The problem worsened when Port Gawler Off Road Hire Park was forced to close as insurance companies refused to quote for insurance.
While there has long been an issue of people using off road vehicles in inappropriate areas, the closure of the hire park left no alternative for riders. Fences surrounding the Port Gawler Conservation Park have been cut and flattened. Wide motorbike tracks are clearly visible through the park, and dumped rubbish litters the roadways and conservation park.
Two Wells councillor Steve Kennedy is appalled by the lack of respect for the conservation park, and has been lobbying Department of Environment and Heritage to rebuild fencing surrounding the park in a bid to reduce damage and illegal activity.
John and Lisa Maiolo, who own the off road hire park, said there would easily be 40 bikes in the conservation park on weekends.
“Sometimes I think we’ve got a motocross race out there,” John said.
A new operator has reopened many of the tracks at the off road hire park, which it is hoped will reduce off road traffic in the coastal environment.
Last weekend, Mr Maiolo estimated 50 people used the off road park on the Saturday and 70 on the Sunday.
Even early Wednesday morning councillor Steve Kennedy warned a group of youths that riding their unregistered bike in the area was illegal.
The excuse – “Look around. Does it look like no-one else does it?”
Signs at the conservation park clearly state the allowed activities of walking, sightseeing, birdwatching and fishing, but banning camping, shooting and motorbikes. District Council of Mallala has erected signs on all its coastal access roads warning people the use of unregistered vehicles such as motorbikes is illegal on the coastline.
The Department for Environment and Heritage (DEH) is aware of the situation at Port Gawler.
The Port Gawler Conservation Park consists almost entirely of mangroves and was proclaimed to protect the mangroves and the habitat they provide for a wide range of marine wildlife including many species of aquatic birds.
Dr Laurence Haegi, DEH Regional Conservator, Adelaide Region, said the area which was being damaged was unallotted Crown land outside the park and had been modified by previous land use.
“Although it therefore has lower nature conservation values, it still has environmental significance,” he said.
“The sign advising visitors they are approaching the park is located on this Crown land. Rangers conduct regular patrols of the park and check on the Crown land areas while they are in the vicinity.
“It is a shame some members of the community continue to vandalise fences in order to gain access to the land, damage the vegetation and dump rubbish.
Remoteness of the area makes it impractical for DEH to maintain a constant presence.
Dr Haegi said rubbish was removed and fences repaired when damage came to DEH attention.
“DEH works with the South Australian Police, local councils and the Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board to try to encourage the community to do the right thing, and we are currently considering a number of options to try to prevent people from cutting fence lines,” he said.
Park bashers face tougher penalties
People who trash public land by squatting, dumping rubbish, riding motorbikes through native vegetation and destroying sand dunes for development will face harsher penalties under changes to the State’s environmental laws.
The penalties, which include fines of up to $20,000, could apply to those damaging the fragile Samphire Coast, particularly at Port Gawler.
In addition to fines of up to $20,000 for the most serious offences, other expiation notices for offences will also apply.
Minister for Environment and Conservation, Jay Weatherill, said destruction of public land such as sand dunes, riverbanks and parklands cost State government and local councils enormous amounts in clean-up bills.
“These tough new penalties send a clear message that damaging our environment in these ways is not acceptable,” he said.
“We’ve updated the legislation to increase penalties, but also cover more contemporary offences such as riding motorbikes off tracks through native vegetation.”
The Bill also requires the person who has caused damage to public land to fix it, or be liable for the costs.
“Dumping car bodies on public land, for example, not only costs money to clean up but also creates a haven for rabbits and foxes and increases the costs of pest control,” Mr Weatherill said.
“But before these changes, the maximum fine for any of these offences was just $100.
“Now expiation notices can be issued and very serious offences will attract fines of up to $20,000 through the courts.
PHOTO BELOW: Mallala councillor Steve Kennedy attempts to explain park regulations to unidentified riders.