ABBOT POINT APPROVED
FRUSTRATED, upset and bitterly disappointed.
This is how some Whitsunday tourism operators have described their feelings about the Federal Government approval for the expansion and dredging of the coal terminal at Abbot Point.
“People are crying,” Explore Whitsundays co-owner Al Grundy said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave the go-ahead to a new coal loading terminal worth $3billion at Abbot Point, just north of the Whitsunday islands and coast. The terminal, known as Terminal 0, will be built by the Indian company Adani and will service its Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin.
Mr Hunt also ticked off a dredging program to shift three million cubic metres of sand from the Abbot Point area in preparation for the proposed Terminal 0 as well as two additional terminals, 2 and 3.
Mr Hunt said some of the strictest conditions in history had been placed on this project to ensure any impact was avoided, mitigated or offset.
A total of 95 environmental conditions will have to be met by the pro- ject’s proponents North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP), who say environmental responsibility is one of their core business values.
While some regional businesses have been desperate for the economic benefits these approvals might bring, the placement of the dredge spoil in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has given Whitsunday tourism operators grave cause for concern.
Just seven weeks ago, representatives from more than 150 local tourism businesses formed a group called ‘Businesses United for Reef Protection’ and signed a pledge to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Members of the group met with Mr Hunt, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and NQBP to try to address their concerns, particularly about water quality degradation.
Now, Mr Grundy says these local operators feel deflated and ignored.
Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association president Tony Brown, who also represents the group, said uncertainty was one of the biggest problems tourism operators now faced.
“How is tourism meant to move forward with confidence?” he asked.
NQBP’s senior manager for corporate relations Mary Steele, however, promised “deep water offshore disposal of dredge material provides the best social and environmental outcome”.
“NQBP has carried out 22 dredging campaigns at our ports since 2002 without incident,” she said.
Ms Steele said an offshore disposal site had not yet been determined and would be selected in consultation with GBRMPA, the Department of Environment and a Technical Advisory Consultative Committee (TACC).
Dawson MP George Christensen described this outcome as a “win for fact over fear” claiming water quality would actually improve.
Likewise, Whitsunday Regional Council also issued a statement describing the Federal Government’s decision as striking “the right balance” between economic benefits and environmental concerns.
Meanwhile, Mr Brown and Mr Grundy would not be drawn on ‘where to from here’ but said various options were being considered.
Local dive operator Tony Fontes says the fight for the reef will now ramp up.
“We may have lost this battle but there will be many more in the future and the Great Barrier Reef is far too precious to lose,” he said.
APPROVED: The Abbot Point expansion was approved this week.