C Veron

Documents show Barrier Reef chiefs wanted dumping plan axed

THE chief authority for the Great Barrier Reef wanted a proposal to dump three million cubic metres of spoil at Abbot Point inside the marine park refused, only months before the authority approved the development.

Documents released under a Freedom of Information application by environmental campaigners show the authority was concerned the dumping of the dredge spoil inside the marine park posed an unacceptable risk.

The draft permit assessment for the Abbot Point proposal cited "high risks" of environmental damage from the dredging and offshore dumping.

However, the authority said the documents released were only "preliminary working drafts" and as such, do not represent the official views of the government agency.

A statement from GBRMPA also said "absolutely no political pressure was brought to bear" on the authority in making its decision.

They included effects on water quality in the area, "consequential impacts on the marine environment, its biota and the users of the area", and "significant uncertainty" regarding the lack of detailed information on the disposal site.

Correspondence between the authority and Environment Department also showed the alternatives to the offshore dumping were "inappropriately dismissed", despite the potential for onshore dumping, which costs more, to reduce environmental impacts.

Authority chairman Russell Reichelt wrote in an opinion piece on The Conversation this morning that based on the scientific evidence before the authority, it approved the application "on the basis that potential impacts from offshore disposal were manageable".

To that end, the authority approved the port expansion with 47 environmental conditions.

"When the dredge disposal occurs, the material will only be allowed to be placed in a defined 4 square kilometre site free of hard corals, seagrass beds and other sensitive habitats," he wrote.

"If oceanographic conditions such as tides, winds, waves and currents are likely to produce adverse impacts, the disposal will not be allowed to proceed."

However, Mr Reichelt's piece did not quote from recent research by the authority about the potential for dredging and offshore dumping to have much longer-lasting and wider impacts than previously thought.
But he did warn of the need for a "much-needed strategy that considers cumulative impacts" of a series of coastal developments, rather than individual case-by-case assessments of such projects.

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