CSIRO scientist leads inquiry into Gladstone bund wall

Curtis Island and Gladstone Harbour have been the subject of criticism since a bund wall leakage in 2011.
Curtis Island and Gladstone Harbour have been the subject of criticism since a bund wall leakage in 2011. Australian Marine Conservation Society

UPDATE 7.40AM: Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has appointed a three-member independent panel to give him "fearless" advice on what went wrong with Australia's biggest dredging project in Gladstone Harbour.

The Australian reports the panel will focus on what caused a bund wall, built to retain dredge spoils, to leak and what impact it had on the marine environment. Mr Hunt said the inquiry had a wide brief to look at other matters associated with the dredging project.

The panel will be co-chaired by CSIRO scientist Andrew Johnson, who is also a member of the International Scientific Advisory Committee of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and Anthea Tinney, whom Mr Hunt said had "previous experience and considerable knowledge regarding the management of the Port of Gladstone".

Also on the panel will be Ian Cresswell, who is the deputy director of CSIRO's Wealth from Oceans Flagship.

Under the terms of reference, the independent panel will:

  • Examine and report on information relevant to the design, construction and functioning of the outer bund wall of the western basin reclamation area.
  • Provide advice to assist with the department's current review of the outer bund wall leak incidents in 2011 and 2012.
  • Consider the adequacy of monitoring requirements and operations.
  • Seek submissions from relevant stakeholders on the design, construction and other matters relating to the subsequent leaking of the bund wall.

It's anticipated the findings will be made available by the end of March, but the deadline could be extended if necessary.

About the panel:

Dr Andrew Johnson is a member of the CSIRO executive team and CSIRO's group executive - environment, with responsibilities for leading the organisation's water, land, climate, marine, biodiversity, urban sustainability, regional development and natural resource management research.

His professional interests are in natural resource planning and policy, public participation in private and public sector decision-making and novel approaches to support rural and regional development.

Anthea Tinney is chair of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO and a member of the Australian Government's Independent Communications Committee.

She chaired the Independent Review of the Port of Gladstone last year. That review was formed by the Federal Government at the request of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. 

She was a deputy secretary in the federal environment portfolio and, before to retiring from the Australian Public Service in 2008, was appointed as the interim CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive. 

Dr Ian Cresswell is the deputy director of CSIRO's Wealth from Oceans Flagship, a national research initiative delivering science help to Australians in a way that balances economic, social and environmental benefit.

He has extensive experience working in environment and sustainable development nationally and internationally in several different areas, including marine planning, fisheries, wildlife regulation, cetacean policy and research, protected areas and biodiversity discovery.

EARLIER: The terms of reference for a long-awaited inquiry into the Gladstone Harbour bund wall failure during dredging works in 2011 is set to be released by the end of the week, but environmental groups fear it could be a rush job.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt confirmed the terms of reference, or what guides the inquiry, will be released this week, with a spokesperson saying the inquiry would be completed with "a relatively prompt turnaround".


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Local conservation groups fear this could be code for "rush job", and called for a thorough inquiry into dredging in the Gladstone Harbour, rather than simply focusing on the leaking of the bund wall.

"Our fear would be that this is simply going to be completed very quickly and with little scrutiny," Gladstone Conservation Council treasurer Cheryl Watson said.

"It's looking like this is simply going to be a rush job. I really want this to work, but I don't think this is going to be the wide-ranging, independent, thorough review that the minister has been talking about."

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Ms Watson also questioned who exactly had been consulted in setting the terms of reference.

Mr Hunt's office said it had conducted "wide consultation" on the terms.

His office would not comment further on whether the prompt turnaround meant a rush job, only saying that details on the terms and the inquiry would be released shortly.

The inquiry is set to look into revelations that faults with the bund wall used to contain dredge spoil during the dredging program associated with LNG projects on Curtis Island were the fault of designers or the construction company.

The leakage is believed to have been caused by a thinner-than-needed geotextile lining, with the leaking used as part of a case study by senior engineers Bill Service, a dredging supervisor with QGC, and Warren Hornsey, an engineer who works with geosynthetic materials.

The Gladstone Ports Corporation maintains a leakage of dredge spoil into the harbour was not to blame for fish disease observed during 2011 and 2012.

Bund wall construction timeline:

October 2010: Federal government approves construction

November 2010: Construction begins

July 2011: Construction complete


Topics:  bund wall curtis island dredging fish health gladstone harbour gladstone ports corporation lng

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