Reef dumping approval in 'direct conflict' with Reef Plan

THE approval to dump three million cubic metres of dredged spoil near Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was "in direct conflict" with the Federal Government's Reef Plan on water quality, new documents reveal.

The documents, obtained by the North Queensland Conservation Council, include draft permit assessments of the project by the marine park authority as late as July last year.

While Environment Minister Greg Hunt put a raft of conditions on the project to minimise its environmental impacts, the documents show they may be to no avail.

Among the concerns raised by the authority was that if the project was approved, it would be "in direct conflict with the Reef Plan's immediate goal to halt and reverse the decline in water quality entering the reef ".

"When compared to the conservative estimate of 39% of fine sediments of the potential dredge spoil re-suspension, equating to 1.17 million cubic metres, the success of the Reef Plan will be severely threatened," documents read.

The revelation bolsters concerns raised by water quality scientists including Professor Jon Brodie that the cumulative impact of all dredging projects would outweigh the gains made in the Reef Plan, and that the conditions on Abbot Point were unachievable.

It also confirms there was "a lack of a true representation of all the available options for dredge spoil disposal" being made at a meeting in June last year between regulators and stakeholders.

An internal GBRMPA assessment of three options - including a long jetty with no dredging and a jetty with dredging of 500,000 cubic metres and disposal on land - also found the proposal that was approved earlier this year had the highest risks of those assessed.

Despite the concerns, Mr Hunt, in approving the project last year, said the conditions imposed would "result in an improvement in water quality and strengthen the Australian government's approach to meeting the challenges confronting the reef into the future".

Other documents released show problems in modelling of dredging and dumping, which may not have taken into account the impacts of ocean currents on spoil dumping.

NQCC's Jeremy Tager said the documents called into question claims that dredging posed little to no impact, modelling decision-makers had relied upon in approving such projects.

"It's extraordinary that, in decades of modelling, the impact of ocean currents on sediment movement has never been considered," he said.

But a spokeswoman for North Queensland Bulk Ports, the Abbot Point operators, said such documents were "superseded", including by hydrodynamic modelling work, which was underway with the authority.

She said the modelling done to support the disposal site analysis plan for the project was "an industry first" and "more comprehensive than any other dredging project within the reef to date".

An authority spokeswoman said GBRMPA recognised the science "continues to evolve", and that after approving the terms of reference for the project, new guidelines for dredge modelling were created.

"These guidelines outline the specific procedures, methodologies and frameworks for hydrodynamic modelling and dredge plume modelling expected for projects in the marine park," she said.

Mr Hunt's office said the conditions imposed were "some of the strictest environmental standards in Australian history".

His spokesman said the result of the condition for a 150% improvement in water quality would be "a long-term net reduction of fine sediments entering the marine park".

"The proponent must meet the very strict conditions imposed and is required to regularly report and demonstrate they are meeting obligations under the approval," he said.



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