Nev Madsen

Government says Pacific Hwy koala bridges ‘will work’

CLAIMS Pacific Hwy upgrades will force a Ballina koala habitat into extinction have been rejected during a NSW budget estimates hearing.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay said mitigation measures including the construction of koala bridges and underpasses had been proven effective in previous projects.

He pointed to a 2012 report into highway upgrades in the state's north from Yelgun to Chinderah and at Bonville which found construction had minimal effects on the koala population.

The work he cited was on a much smaller scale than the upcoming Section 10 highway upgrades which will bisect a koala habitat near Ballina.

"Look, they've worked in the past," he said.

"We are committed to ensuring koalas and other threatened species are identified and steps are taken to manage the impact of projects to their habitat during construction and operation of the new highway."

The report found genetic variation in roadside koalas before the upgrades was already relatively high and "has not been impacted by the long existence of the Pacific Hwy", Mr Gay said.

"Construction activities in the two study areas led to only one known death, suggesting direct impacts of clearing and construction are relatively minor at a population scale when appropriate mitigation strategies are in place.

"Underpasses, both constructed culverts and natural underpasses such as gullies, work in providing safe dispersal routes for koalas to cross the highway."

Mr Gay said more than 50 koalas from the Ballina population had been captured and screened in the past six months, with two research institutes also carrying out genetic analysis to monitor the project's effects.

"All this work will form part of a Ballina koala plan to ensure the best outcome," he said.

He added koala bridge overpasses would be built before construction began "to make sure the koalas get used to them before the traffic comes".