The possible sale of waterfront land at Salamander Bay has angered conservationists still reeling from the Mambo Wetlands controversy.
Port Stephens Council this week confirmed it has bounced the idea around in back room discussion as the title holder of 109 Foreshore Drive, Salamander Bay.
A sale would present a rare opportunity for a buyer to secure a vacant waterfront block but the location opposite the Mambo Wetlands has community groups fuming.
Located amid a strip of well-established two storey homes, all with 180-degree views across Salamander Bay, the site was subdivided for sale in the 1950s.
Rather than sit dormant, it has for generations formed an access point to the water – with the public reserve beside it – for people and koalas, conservationists say.
The mayor Ryan Palmer defended council’s desire to entertain offers.
“I’ll be open; we are looking at our options, with the potential for it to fund other community projects. But the reserve beside it will be maintained if the block is sold in the future,” he said.
Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association, Port Stephens Eco Network and Mambo-Wanda Wetlands Conservation Group and Port Stephens Koalas said the sale would be a mean move.
“Tradition has it that this has been a very much valued piece of public land and very much a corridor for koalas,” TRRA president Geoff Washington said.
“It doesn’t just form part of a reserve it’s an adjunct to the Mambo Wetlands when we get that land preserved."
Port Stephens Koalas secretary Ron Land agreed.
“The koalas cross the road here,” he said. “They need to get access to the waterfront because they like to lick the salt off the sand.”
The land is also said to have tourism value.
“When you drive down the road you get a rare view of the water – this is the view we’re presenting visitors,” Mambo-Wanda Wetlands Conservation Group secretary Kathy Brown said.
The conservation group was founded after the Department of Education sold six hectares of land, adjoining the Mambo Wetlands, to property developer Paul Unicomb.
Mrs Brown urged the council to think carefully.
“Council has been very supportive in the fight to get back that land, I hope they see the value in keeping this,” she said.
Port Stephens Eco Network secretary Nigel Dique said any sale would contradict council policy.
“Council has a policy of ecological sustainability which is wonderful but to even contemplate selling this it totally contrary to its policy,” he said.
“The whole lot should be kept as open access for public access.”
Mr Dique said any sale would be short sighted.
“Ecological sustainability is about inter-generational equity so it’s about leaving this here for the generations to come,” he said.
Mr Palmer said any impact would be small.
“Number 109 only has one tree on it, the reserve has the trees on it,” he said. “The block has been operational land since 1993, having been part of a subdivision in 1956 with a view to sell it back then.”
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said any sale and subsequent development would set a precedent.
“The last thing we need is for this to be sold too, it paves the way for the development of Mambo,” she said.
Ms Washington met with community groups on Monday, after the state government pledged $3 million to build a koala sanctuary – part of a $45 million koala preservation strategy.
“There’s no point building a koala hospital if we can’t maintain the habitat we have, the state government needs to buy Mambo back now,” she said.