Congratulations to the Bracks government for dumping the idea of a toxic waste dump in Nowingi! Having done the right thing by the people of Mildura, it's time for Mr. Bracks to intervene in the controversial channel deepening proposal to ensure that we don’t end up with a toxic dump in the middle of Port Phillip Bay just so a few bigger ships can squeeze into the river port of Melbourne

"Toxic waste dumps are bad news for the environment and for government – and thanks go to Mr. Bracks and his Ministers for stopping an environmental disaster at Nowingi. Toxic waste in the Bay is no more palatable to the electorate, and is another unacceptable environmental threat” says Blue Wedges spokesperson, Jenny Warfe.

In order to achieve the Port of Melbourne Corporation’s (PoMC) plans to accommodate some deeper draught ships, the Bracks government is considering plans to deepen the Yarra by as much as 2.5 metres from its mouth up to the Bolte Bridge, (5 Kms up river). The Yarra bed contains a cocktail of contamination from our history of industrialisation and upstream horticulture which includes heavy metals Mercury, Lead, Copper, Cadmium, Chromium, Nickel, Zinc as well as Arsenic, Tributyl tin, Petroleum Hydrocarbons, Pesticides and Insecticides.

Over 2 million tonnes of the sediment is classified as contaminated or toxic and is destined for a dump site off shore from Brighton. At present, these toxic substances are trapped in a relatively inert state in the Yarra sediments, but if disturbed by dredging will re-enter the water column. Once in the water column, toxicants can re-enter the foodchain, being ingested by various marine creatures, shellfish, fish and potentially we humans. The murky plume from dredging also blocks essential sunlight from entering the water column, repressing photosynthesis and increasing the risk of toxic algal blooms and fish kills. Bang goes our fish and chips by the Bay!  

Like the Nowingi toxic dump, the channel deepening proposal was originally assessed via an EES and Independent Panel, whose report in 2005 outlined 137 recommendations to be addressed before the project might be feasible. The PoMC has spent over $60 million and much of the last 18 months undertaking a “Supplementary EES”, re-doing some of the science from the first EES. Ms. Warfe, who has been a member of the PoMC’s Public Stakeholder Advisory Committee during that time, says that the original project design is largely unchanged however, and the re-done science still fails to prove that the project can be safely undertaken. The S-EES is due for release in early 2007. “In spite of considerable concern about the proposed toxic dump site in the middle of the Bay, the PoMC claims that any other method of managing the toxic spoil would be logistically too difficult and too expensive” she says.   

In another similarity to the Nowingi proposal, where government would have had to amend the local Planning scheme, the Bracks government has the ‘Channel Deepening Facilitation Bill’ already drafted, awaiting enactment. The CD Facilitation Bill would amend the Victorian Constitution, removing Third Party appeal rights and restricting public access to any parts of the Bay the PoMC deemed as ‘Works’ areas. Bad luck to those who rely on the Bay for their living – or pleasure and recreation!

“And like the Nowingi issue – there is another solution. It’s time to re-assess our infrastructure planning for its applicability for our new oil depleted and drier future. Once we adjust our planning framework to include those realities we will see that burning huge amounts of our remaining fossil fuels and emitting global warming Greenhouse gases to move millions of boxes of trinkets thousands of kilometres around the world is only contributing to the problem. It is time to rationalise our trade and transport – be wise with our remaining resources. Of course we need to move some goods internationally – but if we are rational rather than fascinated with the ‘growth fetish’ we might find current sized vessels are perfectly adequate for our needs, without creating a toxic dump in the process. Re-create Victorian manufacturing or R&D jobs instead!

Heavy handed tactics are out of fashion now. Unless we act immediately to preserve what we have left of our environmental assets we will be dealing with a dying planet. In the 21st Century, is digging a bigger hole in the Bay a wise move?” asks Ms. Warfe

 “Not in Mildura’s backyard? Then why in Melbourne’s?”


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