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Keppel Bay industrial project may be barrier reef nightmare

Aerial of the Great Barrier Reef.
Aerial of the Great Barrier Reef. C Veron

A CAPRICORN Coast environmental group says the Fitzroy Coal Terminal's "new milestone" hides even worse outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef than previously thought.

About the project

What developers say

How the transhipping method works

Visit the Protect Keppel Bay website

Read more information at the Queensland Government website

Read the Environmental Impact Statement guidelines here

The Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance says it holds grave concerns for endangered species such as the Snubfin dolphin and is demanding the project's developers answer some key questions.

The coal terminal at Port Alma and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is yet to receive a government green light, but if it goes ahead, it will use a new loading system it claims will require very little dredging.

The Mitchell Group, which is developing the Fitzroy Coal Terminal, says its new "trans-shipper base concept" is environmentally friendly.

But the Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance's coordinator Ginny Gerlach says the project poses enormous risks to the environment, fishing industries and tourism.

"The company has failed to acknowledge out the most salient fact about their 'new' operations," Ms Gerlach says.

"And the fact they plan to trans-ship the coal from coal barges to coal ships in the exposed water of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park."

Map shows where the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage boundary is (low watermark) along the coast, compared to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Boundary (red line).
Map shows where the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage boundary is (low watermark) along the coast, compared to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Boundary (red line).

The alliance is questioning how the vessels will be anchored, how the coal dust spillage will be managed, and what the impact will be of an around-the-clock barge loading operation on the habitat of endangered species like the Snubfin dolphin.

It has asked for details of how the methods have been used in other parts of the world, in similar weather conditions, and what environmental standards were applied.

Ms Gerlach says the director of the project, Ben King, has stated it will not be safe to unload coal in winds of more than 15 knots. She says winds of more than 15 knots occur more than 48 % of the year in the proposed loading zone.

"Dredging these waters will be destructive," Ms Gerlach says.

"But the trans-shipment model will spread that destruction even further through our beautiful currently World Heritage Listed Reef.

"We simply can't allow that to happen.

"The Federal government must reject the proposals for ports in the Fitzroy Delta and adhere to the UNESCO recommendations in order to protect the World Heritage Listing of our reef."

The Fitzroy Terminal Project was declared as a Significant Project by the Queensland Coordinator-General (CoG) on 31 October 2011.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is currently being prepared, and it's anticipated it will be released for public comment later this year.

What the developer says

The Mitchell Group says demand for coal has more than doubled in the past 30 years, but port infrastructure is struggling to keep pace.

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences predicts Australia's coal exports will increase by more than 50 % to 460 million tonnes per annum by 2016.

The group says the project will not only provide an innovative coal export solution, but also generate significant regional and national economic benefits through new employment and business opportunities and royalties.

The group says the transhipping model utilises barges to move coal from shallow in-shore waters to deeper offshore locations where export vessels are mored, thereby reducing the need to dredge.

Coal will then travel by rail, using existing rail networks, to the proposed new rail spur loop near Raglan.

It will then be transported from the coal stockpile via the overland covered conveyor onto shallow draft, enclosed barges which will travel down Raglan Creek, through Port Alma port limits to deep water.

Purpose-built transhippers will transfer the product from the covered barges under strict environmental controls, to ocean-going export vessels anchored offshore.

How the transhipping method works

  •  The terminal will have a floating coal loader attach itself to the side of the visiting ship. This will replace the need for a large jetty, where the coal is loaded on the ship close to the shore.
  •  Barges of coal will be loaded at the mainland and taken to the floating coal loader
  •  The barges will then be docked and unloaded
  •  The system can be used further offshore, meaning the port will only require about 200,000 cubic metres of dredging
  •  Developers say offshore transfer will minimise the risk of marine pest contamination
  •  Other new terminals often require millions of cubic metres to be dredged

About the project

  •  Located adjacent to Raglan Creek, about 50km south of Rockhampton, within the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  •  The project footprint is located partially within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the Great Barrier Reef National Heritage place, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Commonwealth) and the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park (Queensland)
  •  The proposed barge loading facility would be located on Raglan Creek within existing port limits and the transhippers would operate about six kilometres offshore
  •  Aims to transport 22 million tonnes of coal per year
  •  Will potentially require dredging of Raglan Creek and disposal of dredged material
  •  It's anticipated the project will be commissioned in 2015
  •  Designed to offer an export solution for small mining operators not currently catered for by existing port facilities

Topics:  great keppel island, keppel and fitzroy delta alliance, keppel bay



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