Concerns surround the rusting Middle Island Observatory
SINCE its closure in 2008, the derelict Middle Island Underwater Observatory has quietly rusted and concerned environmentalists have fought for something to be done about it.
While the focus of attention has been on the sale of the controversial Great Keppel Island resort development, its owners Tower Holdings let their permit with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for the observatory expire in November 2017.
When Tower Holdings CEO Anthony Aiossa was approached by The Morning Bulletin regarding the situation, he said their plans were "to maintain the existing structure until such time as the new resort is built”.
"Then it is proposed to undertake a major upgrade to the facility for it to be used for tourists,” Mr Aiossa said.
For 10 years, Michael McCabe, coordinator of the Capricorn Conservation Council, has fought a battle regarding the safety and condition of the Middle Island Underwater Observatory, writing letters, complaints and emails sent to GBRMPA, Federal Ministers for the Environment, Rockhampton Regional Council, and Tower Holdings.
Mr McCabe said the totally inadequate responses to their persistent, polite requests to the permit holder and the authorities for repairs or removal of Middle Island Underwater Observatory have caused extreme frustration.
"The neglect of this once valuable tourism drawcard is also echoed in the broader community,” Mr McCabe said.
"The lack of action and enforcement of environmental conditions of the lease has created community concern about the developer's intentions and scepticism about regulators' commitment to enforcement of GBR permit requirements.
"The GBRMPA and Queensland Government should demand that the unsafe, apparently unsalvageable structure be removed to protect the Middle Island Reef and to avoid injury or loss of life to unwary visitors.”
GMRMPA general manager Dr Simon Banks confirmed that there currently was no permit for the structure in the Marine Park.
"The permit lapsed late last year as the current owner didn't provide the Marine Park Authority with the requested information to allow the permit application to be assessed,” Dr Banks said.
"On July 11, 2018, the Marine Park Authority received a permit application from the current owner, however the application did not include all the necessary information for an assessment to be made.
"As such, the Marine Park Authority will not deal with the application further and the owner has been asked to provide the required information before resubmitting a permit application.”
Dr Banks said it was the owner's responsibility to ensure it is a permitted structure or to takes steps for its removal.
"The Marine Park Authority is monitoring this situation and considering the most appropriate action to take to ensure compliance,” he said.
"There are two possible options - the owner can apply for permission to maintain or remove the facility and it can go through an assessment process, or we can issue a removal order. Both require rigorous consideration to ensure there is a good outcome for the Marine Park.”
He said the Marine Park Authority had consulted with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions about issuing a removal order.
"The time frames for removal, costs and potential environmental risks are all factors that need to be carefully considered,” Dr Banks said.
"Given the location of the structure we would also consult relevant Queensland Government agencies. If a decision is made to issue a removal order and the owner fails to remove the structure within the time frame, we could move to prosecute the owner for failing to comply with the removal order.
"If this situation arises, we provide a brief of evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to determine if there is sufficient evidence and public interest to prosecute the matter.”