WWF-Australia said there are toxic chemical, acid sulfate soil, and flooding issues that make it essential a full Environmental Impact Study is undertaken into the dredging and land disposal of spoil at Abbot Point.
“We’re urging Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to reject the Queensland Government’s call for this process to be fast tracked,” said WWF-Australia Reef campaigner Louise Matthiesson.
“We commend the Queensland Government for moving away from sea disposal which is the worst environmental option. But that does not mean the assessment of land disposal should be rushed through.
“No large scale industrial project beside the Reef should ever be fast tracked – has Queensland learned nothing from the Gladstone debacle?” she said.
Mr Hunt has until the end of the month to decide whether to undertake an EIS.
WWF-Australia said the reasons a full EIS was necessary included:
– The dredge spoil contains hotspots of arsenic, manganese, and tributyltin (TBT). Tributyltin, is associated with antifouling paint used on ships and is known to cause irreversible harm to marine life.
– The proposed disposal area is a low-lying coastal floodplain in a tropical region prone to storm surges and cyclones, so the risk of flooding and overflow from the sediment ponds is very high.
– The dredge spoil is also known to contain Potential Acid Sulfate Soils which can become highly acidic when exposed to air.
– Part of the proposed disposal site is an internationally significant coastal wetland which is critical habitat for a nationally endangered waterbird – the Painted Snipe, and supports thousands of migratory birds.
– The dredging operation will destroy seagrass beds and create a muddy plume that could spread tens of kilometres towards nearby reefs. Endangered species, such as turtles and dugongs, rely on seagrass for food.
– There has not yet been a thorough assessment of less damaging alternatives such as longer jetties to minimise the need for dredging or relocation of the dredge material to a site further inland.
“Without a full EIS how do we know the containment ponds for dredge spoil can withstand a cyclone or storm surge. How do we know a toxic soup is not going to escape into the wetlands and then wash out into Reef waters doing untold damage?” Ms Matthiesson said.
“The Queensland Government says the project should be assessed on ‘preliminary documentation’.
“That’s not good enough – these dangers must be properly considered. The world’s best Reef needs the world’s best management, and that means not rushing the assessment process to meet developer demands.
“WWF urges the Government to properly examine the options of longer jetties to minimise dredging, and disposal of the dredge material to a site further inland away from the wetlands and the threat of storm surges.
“Minister Hunt must order a full EIS for both the dredging and land disposal projects. There’s too much at stake for a quick and dirty rush job,” she said.