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The abbot point expansion debate

[hr]When federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, approved Adani’s massive Carmichael coal project in the Galilee Basin in July it whipped up a storm of controversy, especially amongst environmental activists. Aside from the footprint of the actual mine itself, environmental groups expressed fears over the impact an expansion of the Port of Abbot Point would have on the reef; a development necessary for the mine to get its coal to markets overseas.[hr]

The-Abbot-Point-Expansion-DebateTo address what he sees as ‘mis-information in the media’, Bowen local, Alex Finn started up the Abbot Point Expansion Supporters Group in an attempt to bring balance back to the debate.

In this edition of Queensland Mining and Energy Bulletin we give Alex his chance to put the record straight.

What prompted you to start up the Abbot Point Expansion Supporters Group and what does the group hope to achieve?

We started the group to give an avenue for the people who are in support of the project and also to provide somewhere where facts and information can be displayed instead of the misinformation and distortions from the truth that the green groups are putting out there.

 How many supporters do you currently have and from what walks of life?

Currently we have close to 2500 supporters in the group.  They consist of around 75% local people from the Bowen district and range from local business owner/operators to those who are currently working in the industry.  We have the support of state and federal politicians who realise the impact this project will have on Queensland.

The activist group Get Up! Is claiming the Carmichael coal project would destroy approximately 10,000 ha of land including most of the Bygana West Nature Refuge – a highly diverse area supporting two endangered regional woodland ecosystems as well as koalas. What’s your response to this claim?

The Bygana West Nature Refuge is in the southern portion of the Carmichael coal mine lease area. A direct impact on this area is not expected. Personally, I am more concerned by the fact that Get Up! are opposing developments that will create thousands of jobs. I wonder how CFMEU members feel about the union donating over $1 million dollars in 2010 to an organisation that is now opposing coal mine developments and funding legal challenges against the expansion of the Abbot Point coal port.

Nobody wants to the see the Great Barrier Reef degraded in any way. What makes you so sure the expansion at Abbot Point won’t have a detrimental effect on the area; an area so important to the health of the environment and also the health of the job-producing tourism sector?

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s great natural wonders and protecting it for the future is vital. As well as being a natural marvel, the reef plays a vital role in the North Queensland economy, generating significant business and tourism. Everyone wants to see the reef remain one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

The Australian government has put new safeguards in place to protect the long-term future of the Great Barrier Reef. The expansion was approved subject to the highest environmental standards and conditions.

The Environment Minister stated that some of the strictest conditions in Australian history have been placed on this project to ensure that any impacts are avoided, mitigated or offset.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the sea dumping permit with a further forty-seven environmental conditions, which reflect the latest science and best industry management practices, as well as the 95 environmental conditions already put in place by the Environment Minister.

An environmental site supervisor appointed by GBRMPA will be in place during dredging and dredge disposal operations at Abbot Point to oversee compliance with permit conditions.

This supervisor is authorised to stop or suspend or modify works which have caused or are likely to cause harm to the environment or to heritage, social or economic values.

Critics of the Carmichael coal project point to Adani’s poor track record of complying with environmental regulations in their own country of India. How can we be sure they will steadfastly comply with the strict environmental regulations the Australian Government has placed on their operations in this country?

Adani may have a history of poor compliance in their own country, as India does not have the level of environmental protection we have in Australia.  Adani will be utilising contractors to undertake the construction work to complete the project.  These companies are experts in the field and would be fully aware of the consequences if it was found that they were operating outside conditions imposed as part of the approval process.

What is the biggest issue you feel is being mis-represented in the media in regards to the Abbot Point expansion?

Use of the phrase ’the reef’ which include dredging the reef and dumping on the reef. Certain groups are now calling the World Heritage Area “the reef” and I find this very misleading.

The proposed dredging is within port limits and the disposal site will be in the general use area of the marine park.

People are taking a worst case scenario of everything and acting like it is the norm. They only need one bad example and they run with it, no matter how many good things have happened in the past. Some people have even written on social media about mining the reef and digging a shipping channel through the reef. Unfortunately people see these things written and repeat/share them without checking any facts for themselves.

We just want people to check the facts for themselves and then make their own minds up and not to believe everything that they see or hear without questioning it.

I feel the duplicity of the media by encouraging the activists with lies and misinformation –

Fact:

  • The actual reef is 35 km east from the proposed dump area.
  • The nearest fringing reef is Holbourne Island which is almost 10 km south east of the proposed dump site.
  •  The predominant currents are from the south east and travel north west.
  • The predominant windage is from the south east during the dredge campaign.
  • There is NO proposal to excavate a channel through the reef and certainly not a proposal to dump the spoil on the reef.
  • The spoil is sand and clay from the open sea floor.
  •  The spoil is proposed to be dumped some 10 km just inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Area, in a dedicated seaway.
  • The area proposed as the dump site is described by GBRMPA as “an area of little biodiversity” and “an area of little environmental value”.
  •  Abbot Point is an open sea environment, where dredge spoil will be immediately relocated to the final dump site.
  • There is an approval in place to dredge 3 million cubic metres at Abbot Point over a three year period in which dredging will only be allowed for 90 days per year.
  •  Gladstone Harbour is a heavily industrialised estuarine area where 24 million cubic metres was dredged using excavators, with the dredge spoil being relocated to a temporary sea-based dump area before it was relocated behind the bund walls when finished.

If the Abbot Point expansion does not go ahead, what, in your opinion, will be the effect on North Queensland’s economy?

If, for some reason, the expansion does not proceed, we will see the Bowen region struggle to move forward even more than it is at present.  This massive project has the potential for the whole of North Queensland to benefit.  We need to protect the current population in the region as well as secure the future for our children and this project will achieve this.

As we sit at the moment there is nothing happening in Townsville, Bowen or Mackay and all of this will change as soon as the project starts moving.

What outcome would you most like to see come from this controversial debate?

The outcomes that I would like to see come from this debate is to see things moving and see the North Queensland economy back on track providing jobs and opportunities into the future. I would also like to see the ‘Stop the Coal Export Boom’ documents and propaganda distributed by the green groups be exposed as an anti coal agenda.


“There is NO proposal to excavate a channel through the reef and certainly not a proposal to dump the spoil on the reef.”


PROFILE
Alex Finn
alex-finnAlex Finn has 13 years experience in mining, starting work in Mount Isa as a boilermaker. Alex has worked in Mount Isa and various mines around the region as a Supervisor, Project Manager and Estimator. Alex and his family moved to Bowen in late 2009 to be involved in the Abbot Point expansion.

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