Walker Corporation’s proposal to dredge and reclaim coastal wetlands at Cleveland is experiencing further delay in getting Federal Government environmental approval.
The project, which includes plans to dredge 1.85 million tonnes and reclaim 43.5 hectares of land for construction of 3,600 apartments around Toondah Harbour, was referred to the Federal Government for environmental assessment in late 2015.
Much of the area proposed for dredging and reclamation is in the internationally recognized Moreton Bay Ramsar site and contains feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds, some of which are now classified as critically endangered.
This week the Federal Government extended by 65 days the timeframe for deciding how the project’s environmental impacts should be assessed.The new deadline for a decision is 5 December 2016.
The Government’s decision making deadline has now been extended five times with total delay of nearly a year.
A gossip column in Brisbane’s Courier Mail recently said Walker Corporation’s boss Lang Walker is “fuming at the roadblocks the Federal Government has thrown up in the way of his $1.4 billion Toondah Harbour project”.
But the delays are occurring at Walker Corporation’s request and are likely due to inadequacies in the original project referral by Walker Corporation.
Federal Government environmental assessment process
Project developers are required to refer proposed projects to the Federal Government if it’s possible that there may be impacts on matters of national environmental significance.
When it receives a project referral, the Federal Government has to decide if the project should be assessed and approved as a “controlled action” under the EPBC Act.
The only decisions which the Federal government can make at this initial stage is whether or not the project should be controlled by the Federal Government (or left to the State Government) and how environmental impacts should be assessed.
In its referral, Walker Corporation said the Toondah Harbour project should be a “controlled action” under the EPBC Act, saying:
Specifically, tidal works such as the excavation of quarry material from land under tidal water, capital dredging of the navigation channel and land reclamation will result in a loss of seagrass meadow and intertidal mudflats that have aquatic ecological and fisheries value and provide foraging habitat for EPBC listed migratory species, such as migratory shorebirds, dugong and marine turtles.
The Government is required by law to make a decision on a referral within 20 business days which includes 10 business days of public consultation.
Toondah Harbour assessment delay is unprecedented
Walker Corporation’s Toondah Harbour project referral 2015/7612 was publicly notified on 25 November 2015 and the closing dates for comments was 9 December 2015.
Many comments were submitted to the Federal Government about this project referral. Dozens of these submissions are now publicly available and some have been published by Redlands2030.
For reasons which have not been publicly explained, Walker Corporation has requested five extensions to the decision making deadline as detailed below:
|Federal Government notice about referral||Date of notice||Extension duration||Decision Deadline|
|Invitation for public comment||25 November 2015||24 December 2015|
|Suspension of Decision Timeframe Period||17 December 2015||27 business days||9 February 2016|
|Suspension of Decision Timeframe Period||1 February 2016||50 business days||20 April 2016|
|Suspension of Decision Timeframe Period||18 April 2016||13 business days||6 May 2016|
|Suspension of Decision Timeframe Period||4 May 2016||85 business days||2 September 2016|
|Suspension of Decision Timeframe Period||25 August 2016||65 business days||5 December 2016|
The Federal Government has assessed more than 5,000 referrals under the EPBC Act since it was passed in 1999. It appears, from a review of the EPBC Act Public Notices – referrals webpage, that the only referral ever to have its decision time frame suspended is referral number 2015/7612, Walker Corporation’s proposed Toondah Harbour project which has now had five suspensions.
Nothing to see here
Walker Corporation has not explained changes to its project timeline on its Toondah Harbour project webpage.
Consultants AECOM were appointed by Walker Corporation as the lead specialist consultant to prepare the project’s environmental impact statement. AECOM’s project webpage has not been updated since the EPBC referral was submitted to the Federal Government in November 2015.
Walker Corporation should keep the community up to date with the status of its proposed Toondah Harbour project and explain why these extraordinary delays have occurred.