Gladstone Ports bid to dump dredge spoils on Great Barrier Reef axed

Greg Hunt says the research confirms Australia has the highest carbon price

Greg Hunt has ordered the Queensland government and Gladstone Ports to consider only onshore dumping of dredge spoils. Picture: Kym Smith Source: The Australian

OFFSHORE dumping of 12 million cubic metres of dredge spoils into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area has been banned by the government.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he had ordered the Queensland government and Gladstone Ports Corporation to consider only onshore dumping of dredge spoils from the construction of a proposed $400 million second sea lane.

Mr Hunt said the port and state government had agreed to use the dredge spoils to reclaim further land in Gladstone Harbour for future port development. It was hoped that additional land in Gladstone Harbour would provide an alternative to the controversial Balaclava Island development site in Keppel Bay.

However, under the Abbott government’s new cumulative impact strategy for reef protection – whereby projects are assessed in relation to the effect of all projects along the Queensland coast rather than in isolation – the rejection of offshore dumping of 12 million cubic metres of dredge spoils at Gladstone would make it easier to approve offshore dumping of spoils to expand the Abbot Point coal terminal, 25km north of Bowen.

Mr Hunt said he had not made any decision on Abbot Point, which is due to be delivered by December 13.

Reef health and offshore dumping have become highly controversial issues, with concerns raised by the World Heritage Committee and environment groups about the possible impact on the Great Barrier Reef. The latest research by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has shown that dredge spoils spread further and have a bigger impact than previously thought.

Whitsundays tourism operators have spoken out about the expansion of Abbot Point, fearing the impact it would have on nearby water quality and the reef.

The Abbott government said it had made the Great Barrier Reef a key environmental priority, with increased funding for water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish eradication.

A joint strategic plan has been published, which the federal and state governments hope will encourage UNESCO not to put the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area on its “in-danger” list next year.

The World Heritage body has expressed alarm about the pace of development at Gladstone and plans for new port developments along the Queensland coast with associated dredging.

Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association president Tony Brown said tourism operators were concerned that the science on the impact of dumping dredge spoil offshore was uncertain.

Lend Lease directors were questioned at the company’s annual meeting in Sydney yesterday about the company’s investment in the proposed Abbot Point expansion. Chairman David Crawford said no decision had been made on the project but he defended the company’s record on sustainability issues.

Dredging at Gladstone Harbour for the $33 billion Curtis Island LNG developments has been surrounded in controversy because of an outbreak of fish disease. Onshore dumping has also been controversial.

Gladstone Ports Corporation had previously conceded environmental problems caused by a “leaking” bund wall, which was designed to retain dredge spoils.

A duplicate sea lane in Gladstone has been given special project status by the Queensland government but not yet confirmed. An environmental impact statement is due to be lodged by Gladstone Ports Corporation next year.

Dredging was expected to start in 2014-15.

Mr Hunt said after consulting the state government “I have instructed the Gladstone Ports Corporation not to consider dumping any material from the capital dredging project in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park”.

“In particular, I have requested that the Ports Corporation give priority to examining land reclamation and on-shore recovery of any spoil,” Mr Hunt said.

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