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Seagrass removal permit in conflict with approvals

THE Gladstone Ports Corporation was given a permit to remove seagrasses in a "low impact zone" during the controversial Western Basin dredging project, in conflict with approvals meant to prevent such damage in the zone.

An APN investigation has established the ports corporation applied for the "marine plant removal permit" inside the dredging project's "low impact zone", despite the zone being designated as such as damage to seagrasses or other marine plants was not meant to occur.

While the ports corporation initially denied the existence of the permit, a spokeswoman later said that "following further investigations", the port could confirm the permit existed.

But APN has obtained an independent review of the water quality management plan for the dredging project, completed for the Gladstone bund wall review, under a Freedom of Information application from environmental advocacy group Australians for Animals.

Both the port and Fisheries Department said the permit was sought and approved as a "precautionary measure" in case a dredge spoil plume affected marine plants in the dredging project's low impact zone.

But the confidential report to the bund wall review revealed that such a "precautionary measure" was "arguably a very unusual application of the precautionary principle".

"Although the low impact zone is defined as the area where no impacts are predicted to occur, it is noted that the WQMP recognises there may be impacts to seagrasses within the low impact zone," the report reads.

Dredge boats in Gladstone Harbour.
Dredge boats in Gladstone Harbour. Brenda Strong

The report further said that the permit would "seem to be at odds with the intent of the conditions applying to this proposal".

The detail of the conflicting approvals follow recent revelations that the bund wall review panel failed to interview three key witnesses to the failings on the project, and key limitations on other investigations undertaken in the review.

APN further understands that the water quality review, while independent, was forced to rely on existing documents the federal Environment Department provided and had no remit to investigate claims made in the documents.

The port applied to the State Government for the permit to remove marine plants in December, 2010, about two months after the Federal Government had approved the Western Basin dredging project, despite the EIS predicting very little or no impacts from dredging to seagrasses in the low impact zone.

The state government then approved the permit in April, 2011, to allow "the removal of seagrass and any other marine plants within the low impact zone", a fisheries department spokeswoman said.

A ports spokeswoman has denied any damage to seagrasses in the low impact zone from dredging and said the permit was a legal requirement for "any direct or indirect disturbance" to seagrass or mangroves from the dredging project.

She said that "there has been no evidence to confirm that dredging related turbidity has impacted seagrass in the low impact zone".

The review, which largely found the water quality management plan met federal conditions, highlighted the inconsistency between state and federal approval conditions as a key issue, which was later reflected in the bund wall review's final report.

- APN NEWSDESK

Topics:  gladstone ports corporation seagrass



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