Great Keppel Island.
Great Keppel Island. Supplied

Tower answers GKI critics

Anthony Aiossa’s detailed response to recent claims and concerns expressed in this paper about Tower Holdings’ “Revitalisation Plan” for Great Keppel Island.

IN HER column (in The Morning Bulletin) on March 19, Ms Alison Jones, the president of the Capricorn Conservation Council (CCC), outlined the reasons for her opposition to the GKI Revitalisation Plan proposed by Tower Holdings. I would like to take the opportunity to respond to her claims and indicate publicly that we admire the fact that she is able to voice her concerns and stand up for what she believes in.

She obviously has what she believes are the best interests of the environment at heart and that is honourable.

Firstly, I would like to make the point that as a community, we must work together if we really want to achieve sustainable development outcomes. This means that property developers and conservationists need to align themselves rather than criticise each other from opposite sides of the fence. The technology and expertise exists today to create eco-tourism resorts which co-exist with environmentally sensitive areas. We just need to work together to achieve it.

Tower Holdings strongly believes that GKI is the most beautiful island in the Great Barrier Reef and that it deserves to have the best resort in the Reef and this should be “commensurate with the unique and natural attributes of GKI and Keppel Bay”. All we are asking for is a fair go at putting together the EIS and before Ms Jones condemns the project as a bad project; at least consider the independent scientific information contained within the EIS.

Tower Holdings has worked very hard to incorporate a range of environmental initiatives into the project to achieve our vision of delivering “Australia’s most environmentally focused resort”.

Some of these initiatives include:

  • Creation of a low-rise eco-tourism resort where buildings sit below tree canopies, use rooftop solar, rainwater tanks, maximise natural ventilation, solar heating and use recycled buildings materials;
  • Australia’s “first carbon-positive island resort” by the significant use of solar power. This will be a world-leading initiative and result in no net carbon emissions;
  • Establishment of a fully dedicated research centre on the island;
  • A biodiversity conservation fund where a proportion of all revenue of the resort is collected and used for conservation works on the island;
  • Significant setbacks from sensitive environments to ensure no adverse runoff into the marine park;
  • The establishment of a dedicated 545 hectares of Environmental Protection Area, properly funded and managed.

We respect the role that the CCC plays in the community to try and reach a balance between development and conservation. However, it is difficult to comprehend why a low-rise eco-tourism resort on the location of an old sheep farm is targeted as CCC’s main opposition project. This is particularly unusual when there are projects that involve potentially far greater environmental risks happening in the region that Ms Jones and the CCC are far more silent on, such as the LNG projects at Curtis Island, the Zero Gen project, the Western Basin Dredging project in Gladstone, Hummock Hill Island project and the ever-increasing number of new coal projects. Are we really suggesting that an eco-tourism resort is of greater environmental concern than these projects?

The GKI Revitalisation Plan need not be the enemy project of the CCC and need not be the enemy of conservationists. Rather it should be a wonderful opportunity to showcase to the rest of Australia that Central Queensland is leading the country in environmentally sustainable development.

If this project falls over as a result of the CCC’s public fear campaign, think of what will become of the island:

Lot 21 will become another area that lacks public funding, the weeds will continue and the public access tracks will not be maintained;

There will be no safe marine facility or floating jetty to Fisherman’s Beach. So the boats will continue to anchor uncontrolled around the island, they will continue to discharge sewage into Keppel Bay and the elderly and disabled will continue to be deterred from accessing the island;

A hotel operator will struggle, as did Tower, from attracting the family market due to the poor access and lack of facilities to compete with other resorts. It would then be likely that the existing resort would be cheaply refurbished and aim to attract the backpackers market similar to Airlie Beach and Cairns;

Families of Central Queensland would continue to travel to places like Bali and Fiji for their island holidays;

There would be no research centre on the island, no police service and no rescue service;

Central Queensland will miss out on 1400 jobs and hundreds of small business opportunities; and

The Capricorn Coast will miss out on its opportunity to create a genuine tourism industry.

In response to the specific issues identified by Ms Jones last week, I note the following:

1. Lot 21 being “Public Land” – as Ms Jones is very well aware, Lot 21 is a “privately” leased land parcel and has continued to be “privately” leased for over 150 years. Lot 21 was originally leased as a sheep farm back in 1860 which resulted in a large area of this land being cleared. Ms Jones is also very aware that Keppel Haven and the GKI Holiday Village are located on leasehold land. Most of the island resorts throughout Queensland are situated on leasehold land. In fact, almost two thirds of the entire state of Queensland is leasehold land. To try and build an argument that because Lot 21 is leasehold land that it should not be permitted to be developed upon is at complete odds with the entire land tenure system in Queensland.

The Lot 21 lease does have a condition stating that public access must be maintained. Tower Holdings has NEVER sought to convert this leasehold land into freehold land and has NEVER sought to restrict public access over it. In fact, we believe that the current proposal will significantly improve the public access over Lot 21 and make it accessible for the very first time to ALL of the public.

2. Weeds on Lot 21 – The weeds on Lot 21 have been present for over 100 years and Tower only took over the lease in 2007. To eradicate the weeds properly, we have proposed that as part of the overall GKI Revitalisation Plan, that we implement a land management plan which is currently being prepared by environmental specialists. This process of dealing with the weeds will cost millions of dollars and take many years of hard work. Tower Holdings is prepared to do this and have indicated to the CCC and other groups that we would like their input into this process as Ms Jones is well aware of this fact.

3. Marine facility – Ms Jones states that the CCC opposes a marine facility at Putney Beach because of the environmental damage it will create. It is misleading and deceptive to make these claims without assessing the facts beforehand. Tower Holdings is spending millions of dollars on detailed investigations on the EIS and into the marina facility to factually understand what the genuine impacts of its construction will be. Conservations groups and the general public will all have the opportunity to see these investigations in black and white once the EIS is completed. Perhaps we should wait until then to pass judgement.

The most critical factor for the viability of an island resort is access to the island by sea and air. Without appropriate access for guests, day trippers, staff and supplies, the resort will fail. It is not acceptable in 2011 to ask guests to access the island directly via the beach or to have tractors driving along the beach to unload supplies. Apart from providing access, the marine facility would also include a sewage pump-out facility for boats, reduce uncontrolled anchoring around the island, provide a facility for police and rescue services and provide a safe harbour for boating traffic travelling up and down the coast.

4. Closure of the old resort – Ms Jones states that Tower Holdings “closed down a working resort”. However, she fails to note that prior to closing the resort, Tower operated it for over 12 months during which time it spent approximately $3 million on improvements to the old resort. However, occupancy levels were generally below 40% and every day complaints were made about the standard of accommodation. The resort infrastructure was beyond repairs and the dirty old diesel generators were consuming more than $1.2 million in diesel each year.

Unfortunately, in early 2008 the operation was closed due to a very significant trading loss and the beginning of the global financial crisis.

We recognise that Tower Holdings has made some mistakes in managing the community’s expectations to date. However, surely it is time to let us complete the EIS and let’s debate and solve any genuine environmental issues rather than unfounded emotional issues. We welcome Ms Jones and the CCC’s positive inputs to ensure Great Keppel Island remains the jewel in the Great Barrier Reef that we can all enjoy.

Anthony Aiossa,

Development Manager for Tower Holdings

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