26 February 2014
Dumping dredge spoil near reef was decided without independent analysis
Environment Department says it gave approval after ports corporation said dumping spoil on land was too expensive
Activists protest under water on the Great Barrier Reef
The Environment Department did not conduct independent analysis of how much it would cost to dump dredge spoil on land before permission was granted to dump it in Great Barrier Reef waters.
North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation undertook its own assessment of expanding the port at Abbot Point and found dumping 3m cubic metres of dredge spoil on land would be prohibitively expensive.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the dumping of the soil in the marine park in January with 47 conditions attached.
Dean Knudson, from the department's compliance division, said the department accepted the port's own assessment of how much it would cost to dump the spoil on land.
"The department did not undertake costing analysis of individual proposals. The proponent was in a position where they had undertaken costing estimates as you would expect commercial costings of the various options," he told Senate estimates.
Questioned by Greens senator Larissa Waters, he said that the decision was 'consistent with the world heritage convention recommendations' and that 'there was a world's best practice environmental assessment undertaken for this port'.
Waters has criticised the department for not undertaking its own analysis saying it was taking a mining company's word for best practice.
"The proponents could well be overstating the cost of disposing of dredge spoil on land but the government doesn't know because it's simply relying on the proponent's word, even though the proponent obviously has a direct conflict of interest," Waters said.
"The community will be shocked to hear that our government is blindly relying on port developers' claims and letting them dump dredge spoil offshore in the reef's waters."
Among 47 new environmental conditions imposed by the authority with the approval to dump the spoil within the park was:
Measures to minimise impact on biodiversity, particularly coral.
A long-term water quality monitoring plan extending five years after the disposal activity is completed.
A heritage management plan to protect the Catalina second world war aircraft wreck in Abbot Bay.
Offset measures for commercial fishing in the event of adverse impacts.
The prevention of any harm to environmental, cultural and heritage values of any areas 20 kilometres beyond the disposal site.
Environmental site supervision by an authority nominee.
The establishment of an independent dredging and disposal technical advice panel and a management response group, to include community representatives.