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Upper Catchment Issues Vol 2 No 2

Author: Tasmanian Community Resource Auditors Incorporated

Introduction

For several years there has been growing community concern over the way in which forest resources have been managed in Tasmania (Upper Catchment Issues 2001- 2003). The focus of this paper is road construction in the North East of the state (see Figure 1). The study area is located in the vicinity of the Blue Tier (Nicklason et.al. 2004).

In order to access logging coupes forestry proponents are required to prepare, and in some cases, rework existing gravel access roads. All practices and management approaches are governed or guided by the State's Forest Practices Code (Forestry Commission Tasmania 1993).

Over a five year period community members have carried out detailed observation of construction and remediation works on Lottah Road. The purpose of this report is to show the extent of difficulties and problems encountered by logging proponents when attempting to construct roading in steep slope, high rainfall areas.

The study site
Soils

The soils in the area have been described by Laffan (n.d.) (see Appendix 1) as freely draining and friable, with minor rock content. "A" horizons typically have high levels of organic matter. With reference to a particular coupe he concludes that the soils are not highly erodible.

Annual rainfall

Annual rainfall is approximately 1400mm (Laffan n.d.) (see Appendix 1).

Location of Lottah Road

Lottah road is situated between Weldborough and St Helens in the North East of Tasmania (see Figure 2).

Audit Methodology

Overall approach
The approach involved monitoring changes over a 5 to 6 year period using photographic evidence. Issues and problems were then raised with the relevant authorities.

Methods

The method involved taking photographic evidence relating to initial road construction and subsequent mass failures of the road substructure. The community group then raised a series of strategic questions with the Forest Practices Board. The answers to questions then served to drive a deepening process of enquiry, which resembled a form of Root Cause Analysis (Wilson et. al. 1995).

Results and Discussion

Monitoring during 1999
The 1999 monitoring (Ransley 1999), carried out during April of that year is reported in Appendix 2. Key concerns related to culvert construction, impacts on water quality as a result of road construction and subsequent draining operations, and possible impacts of disturbed soil on nearby streams. These and a number of other concerns were raised in the conclusions to the monitoring report. The report triggered an "on site" meeting between Forestry Tasmania and members of the community group on July 20, 1999 (see Appendix 2). There remained concerns over the engineering integrity of sections of the road, particularly the potential of collapse.

Monitoring report 2004

Observations by the community audit group during the period 1999-2004 revealed serious potential for mass failure and in several cases actual road failure. Appendix 3 details the findings of the road collapses during the rainfall events of January/February 2004. The community group members remained very concerned as to the apparent lack of engineering expertise displayed by the road construction managers. It was clear that, despite assurances during 1999 (see Appendix 3 for extensive correspondence), road failure did occur. Issues of safety of road users and environmental impacts, including effects on drinking water quality, were all uppermost in the minds of the community and their expert advisors. Questions relating to due diligence, foreseeability and duty of care were also noted and thought worthy of urgent follow-up. The reply and attempted rebuttals by the Forest Practices Board (Appendix 4) suggest that overall management could have been better. Note also in Appendix 4 the reference (from FPC 2000) to road construction.

In any case the reality is that mass failure has occurred in the road structure.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The results of this audit clearly indicate that the road construction manager, their agents, servants and/or consultants may well be negligent in the execution of their duties with respect to the actual construction and ongoing maintenance of the road in question. The findings in this report also highlight what appear to be systemic errors in management and a lack of appropriate risk assessment and corrective action.

The authors recommend that the environmental management systems with Forestry Tasmania and the Forest Practices Board be the subject of Community Based Audits in order to determine whether or not systemic failure has occurred.


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