Outmoded, controversial plans to undertake the biggest dredging project ever seen in Australia are no nearer being completed than they have ever been in spite of the imminent SEES. Recent media reports are nothing more than the usual business hype which has accompanied the proposal for years. In reality the project is no nearer being started than it was 5 years ago - and it certainly has far less community support.

The outmoded and controversial channel deepening project is no nearer being completed than it has ever been says Blue Wedges spokesperson Jenny Warfe. Recent media report 'Bay Dredge Plan over first hurdle' (The Age, Sunday 18th March 2007) is nothing more than the usual business hype which has accompanied the proposal for years. In reality the project is no nearer being started than it was 5 years ago - and it certainly has far less community support.

“The business sector has reportedly rated the environmental protection in the forthcoming Supplementary Environmental Effects Statement (SEES) as 'gold class'. Well they would say that wouldn't they? The language is no different to what project supporters have always used to promote their 19th Century style proposition. Since 2000 or so we have been hearing terms like "Government gives the green light to dredging", but when the project was independently assessed in 2005, the PoMC's science was found to be grossly inadequate – in spite of PoMC’s assurances at the time that their environmental protection was world class”.

Several Blue Wedges supporters have been members of the Port's Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which has met regularly for 18 months until December 2006 to receive updates on the progress of the soon to be released SEES. They say that any changes to the project do not address the major concerns and recommendations outlined when the project was rejected by the first Independent Panel process in 2005.

Here are some of their observations:

·         PoMC still plans to use the same dredging contractor and same technology which caused the rockfall at the Heads during the trial dredging in 2005

  • 500,000 tonnes of rock would still be removed from the beautiful Canyon area at The Heads, where removal of only 27,000 tonnes caused such extensive damage during the trial.
  • Just as in the first EES, PoMC still proposes to remove over 1 Km of the rocky Canyon ledge using a dredge head design to gouge and suck of rocks, but which failed to do so without causing tonnes of rock to tumble down the canyon wall killing and damaging ancient sponge gardens and corals as it fell.  
  • Channel design through The Heads is largely unchanged, and is still through one of the world's acknowledged treacherous shipping waterways. The channel has strong cross currents exceeding those recommended in international standards for shipping channels and is rocky sided. Ships usually cannot move straight through, but crab through with bow and stern pushed closer to the edges of the channel.
  • According to our expert advice, the less manoeuvrable and deeper draught containers and oil tankers would sit deeper into the rocky sided channel than before, increasing the risk of grounding on the channel walls as was submitted at the first Panel Hearing. This parameter is unchanged.  
  • Toxic and contaminated sediment dump (over 2 million tonnes) would still be removed from several kilometres of the Yarra bed if deepened another 2.5 metres; risking re-entry of toxins and contaminants into the water column and foodchain
  • Toxic and contaminated material would still be dumped in the Bay, although now purportedly contained within a clay bund, but still risking re-entry of toxins and contaminants into the water column and foodchain

Even the PoMC's own 'Nutrient and Contaminant Monitoring' SEES consultant reported that:

         State Environment Protection Policy (SEPP) criteria for arsenic, chromium, copper, lead and zinc exceeded in all four sample locations; mercury at the Port Melbourne Dredge Management Ground  and cadmium at Port Melbourne Channel  

         Implications for areas outside the plume are difficult to determine

         Continuous dredging could result in elevated concentrations within localised areas for relatively long periods of time

         Sampling during trial did not employ full suite of quality control mechanisms

         Uncertainty with sampling procedures and results of low level metal analysis cast doubt on reliability of the findings

         These results were recorded over a few weeks, it is not possible to determine with ANY DEGREE OF ACCURACY the potential effects over an extended period of time

Is this the language of success? We don’t think so. The 6 dot points above are direct quotes from SEES Study X1.1, which should appear in the soon to be released document.

Even the PoMC's own Risk Assessment experts; URS Pty. Ltd. will be reporting in the SEES that there are moderate level risks to various irreplaceable Bay assets. URS define Moderate risk as 'Medium term recovery. Substantial change to area or function'. According to the URS report to the stakeholder committee, assets and ecosystems which will be exposed to such risk include:  

  • Fish species in North of Bay threatened by seabed removal, reduced visibility and noise
  • Aquaculture, recreational fishing, marine mammals, seagrass beds/shallow habitat, and various fish species face threats as a result of reduced light in South of Bay
  • Commercial fishing and Aquaculture and recreational diving face threats from reduced visibility, and seagrass beds from clogging
  • Amenity and Disruption to Bay users, Tourism, Deep habitats are threatened at The Entrance
  • Various fish species, marine assemblages such as sponge gardens and corals, and shallower seagrass beds are also under threat at The Entrance 

These are the risks which the PoMC is apparently prepared to reveal in the forthcoming SEES, which we can only presume will have been well polished prior to its release.

And still the PoMC has failed to take account of these irreplaceable assets in its much trumpeted PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) economic analysis for the project, the terms of which examine the contribution of the Port to the economy, but not the contribution of the Bay to society and the economy. “The PWC consultant advised us that this would be too difficult and beyond the scope of the study”.

What IS different about the SEES is that project costs appear to have doubled since the first Panel Report in 2005 (and quadrupled since the project was first mooted in early 2000's). 

And we still haven’t got an analysis of what the full cost to taxpayers will be of undertaking all the necessary related projects including moving Melbourne markets, moving Footscray Rd., construction of the proposed rail bridge/tunnel adjacent to Docklands, as well as the community costs of the projected quadrupling of truck traffic by 2035 regardless of improved rail connections. Given that only approximately 4% of the total number of ships currently using the port are potentially depth constrained, an independent analysis of how many of these larger ships will ever make the journey to the southerly and most difficult of Australian Ports – Melbourne - is well overdue!

Why aren't we getting it? Is the government wedded to infrastructure projects just for the hell of it?

“Let's not forget that under present legislation an EES is prepared by the proponent, in this case the PoMC. One might ask what is the difference between an EES/SEES and any other promotional material prepared by a developer”, says Ms. Warfe 


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