Inquiry finds environmental conditions were too vague

ENVIRONMENT Minister Greg Hunt has handed down a report into the failed bund wall in Gladstone Harbour which has blamed Labor's conditions of approval.

An independent inquiry into a leaking bund wall in Gladstone Harbour in 2011 and 2012 has released 37 findings and 19 recommendations.

The inquiry has found "aspects of the design and construction of the bund wall were not consistent with industry best practice", and the geotextile layers of the wall eroded under pressure.

While the overall design of the bund wall and the choice of geotextile were considered appropriate, inadequate restraint of a geotextile liner, 'piping' of water and sediment through paleo channels under the wall and the erosion of mud outside the wall all contributed to changes in turbidity in the vicinity of the bund wall, the inquiry found.

The investigation also found water quality monitoring sites in Gladstone were established in the wrong areas, and the federal Environment Department failed to adequately retain compliance records.

It also says environmental conditions imposed by the Commonwealth lacked the specifics necessary to enable their effective enforcement.

Mr Hunt said the Department of the Environment's ability to respond to alleged breaches of conditions was limited by the lack of specificity in some of the previous Labor Government's conditions of approval, inadequate resourcing of the regulatory functions at the time of the incident, and fragmented and complex cross-jurisdictional regulations.

The panel also identified instances where incidents were not reported to regulators in a timely manner and various categories of information were not made immediately available to the public.

An aerial view of Gladstone Harbour after the LNG projects started.
An aerial view of Gladstone Harbour after the LNG projects started. Australian Marine Conservation Society

However, the panel was unable to find evidence of monitoring data or other information being withheld.

"Rather, there was a complex set of reporting requirements with a considerable amount of data collected by different sources and for varying purposes. This contributed to the low level of public confidence in the monitoring and reporting regime," the report states.

The review has found a number of significant deficiencies in the overall performance of the environmental regulators and the Gladstone Ports Corporation, responsible for the construction of the wall.

"With the benefit of hindsight, some actions taken by both Australian and Queensland governments and the proponent in the delivery of the Western Basin Strategic Dredging and Disposal Project were less than optimal," the report states.

"There is insufficient evidence to attribute motive or overall long-term harm from these deficiencies.

"In fact, genuine attempts were made by all parties to reduce impacts on the environment.

"There were, however, numerous instances where government regulations and approval conditions, management actions, and monitoring results were poorly communicated to the general public.

"This led to poor understanding of the Western Basin Strategic Dredging and Disposal Project among a number of stakeholders, and a general loss of community confidence and trust in governments and the Gladstone Ports Corporation."

Mr Hunt said it was important to note the findings related to events in 2011 and 2012.

"I am advised these issues affecting the bund wall have been resolved and do not present an ongoing threat to the environment," Mr Hunt said.

"I am also advised that the department has already begun to address a number of the findings, including a significant increase in compliance monitoring staff numbers, a risk based model developed in collaboration with the CSIRO to better manage compliance resources, and a review of all compliance and enforcement standard operating procedures to be completed by June 30."

Mr Hunt said he intended to adopt as many of the inquiry panels recommendations as possible.

You can read the full report here.

Topics:  bund wall dredging environment gladstone harbour greg hunt inquiry

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