Murky reasons for stirring up the Bay

Writer and broadcaster Tracee Hutchison has dredged up some alarming facts about the Port's Plans and the newly appointed Independent Panel.

Murky reasons for stirring up the bay

Tracee Hutchison
April 7, 2007

The Age

'WE WON'T be giving the green light unless we can be sure that adverse environmental impacts are acceptable."

At first I thought Planning Minister Justin Madden was paraphrasing from the British TV series Yes, Minister. Until I realised it was an actual quote.

In one astonishing Yes-Ministeresque sentence, Madden this week admitted the proposed $763 million channel-deepening project in Port Phillip Bay will have a significantly detrimental environmental impact. Yet apparently the minister and his Government are already looking for ways to make the predicted environmental carnage acceptable.

Let's look at the facts. According to the 15,000-page Port of Melbourne Corporation's Supplementary Environmental Effects Statement, the dredging of 22.9 million cubic metres of sediment from the bay's floor will create excessive turbidity, release contaminants, create 18 hectares of rockfalls, spawn algal blooms, reduce fish stocks, damage crucial seagrasses and affect recreational and commercial use of Melbourne's waterfront.

That's according to the people who will cause it. Before dredging has even started. Can this possibly be acceptable?

During trial dredging last year, the affected areas stretched from Mornington to Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula and Point Lonsdale to St Leonards on the Bellarine. At the time, the impact of the dredging was evident in rockfalls at the Heads and reduced water quality.

In the report you can see the predicted excessive levels of turbidity that will affect the entire Yarra River to the mouth, stretching right across Hobsons Bay, taking in Station Pier and the Docklands when dredging occurs there.

Even to a layperson it doesn't look good. If the project goes ahead, the dredging will occur over two years.

That's two years of murky water, dying fish, dumping of sediment sludge, damaged ecosystems, reduced amenity and aesthetics. All for a predicted $2 billion benefit to the national economy over 30 years.

Yet the Mornington Peninsula already boasts $1 billion tourism dollars annually. That figure can only increase if the current beach-oriented attraction of the region remains part of the appeal. What kind of shape will our beaches be in after two years of dredging? Can the Planning Minister tell me that?

But it's all about getting bigger ships into Melbourne. Apparently that's important.

So this week the State Government appointed a three-member panel with little or no marine or environmental expertise to review the environmental report.

Heading the panel is Dr Allan Hawke. You might remember him in his role as secretary of defence during the children overboard affair. He has a PhD on plague locusts.

Panel member two is Mike Lisle-Williams. Lisle-Williams is an information and communications specialist with professional links to Deloitte, Unisys and EDS. Deloitte has various international consultancies with port authorities. EDS has just signed a $5 million defence contract with the Australian Government. Unisys is involved in port security.

Panel member three is former town planner Dr Kathryn Mitchell. Mitchell is now a full-time public servant who sits on panels. She's presided over review panels for Woodside Petroleum's Otway gas project, Hotham Alpine Resorts and the marina development at Wyndham Cove.

The public can submit its opposition to the channel-deepening project by May 7. A total of 40,000 peninsula residents have already signed protest petitions but it's hard to imagine how your average person, with nothing financial to gain, can measure up against a corporation that has already sunk more than $110 million into the process.

Exactly how can you put a price on a swim in pristine water? What is the precise value of sitting at the end of Rosebud jetty dangling a handline over the edge? How can you measure the joy of an afternoon snorkelling off Sorrento with the kids?

This is what is up for grabs and this review is happening over winter. When no one — except us locals — is thinking about the beach. The timing, conveniently post-election, is cynical and the process is anything but acceptable.

Yesterday morning I swam with a dolphin off McCrae. The sea was clear and inviting. I hope I can say the same in years to come.

Tracee Hutchison is a writer and broadcaster and Mornington Peninsula resident.


Previous page: General
Next page: Coming Events