'Environmental time bomb' at new bypass

THE company constructing the Tugun bypass has been put on notice by environmental authorities after testing of contamination caused by construction of the project returned “frightening” results. Alarming levels of acid in the water, with a pH of 2.2 and up to 1000 times the safe limits of toxic heavy metals, were found from several test bore holes near where the bypass tunnel is being constructed. The Abigroup, part of the Pacific Link Alliance Group, was sent a “Notice of clean-up action” on August 13 last year, and its failure to comply led to an infringement notice issued on January 7 carrying a $1500 fine and the requirement for the group to provide further information on how it proposed to manage and monitor discharges from the construction. Lindy Smith, Tweed Heads Pony Club representative on the community liaison group, overseeing the project, said the toxic run-off caused by construction works threatened the entire economic and cultural viability of the Tweed and Cobaki river systems, the airport extension and tourism in the region. She said acid water from several borehole tests had reached an alarming acidity%level with a pH of 2.2 (vinegar has a pH of 3 and battery acid pH 1). Heavy metals dissolved by the acid water, including aluminium, iron, chromium, zinc and copper, had the ability to kill fish, encourage toxic blue-green algae, cause erosion and subsidence to the new runway extension at Coolangatta airport, quite apart from construction problems faced due to groundwater being forced up beneath the tunnel. “Leading experts have pub- licly stated concerns of the levels of acid and heavy metals we are faced with. This is unprecedented, and there is evidence of a high risk that the river system could become%sterile and completely dead.” Ms Smith said it was the%biggest environmental problem confronting the Tweed, calling it an environmental “time bomb”. A spokesman for the Queensland Department of Main Roads, on behalf of consortium members including the Abigroup, confirmed the infringement notice had been received, but denied the problems were serious enough to delay completion of the project by mid-2008 – six months ahead of schedule. “The alliance is fully co-operating with NSW and commonwealth regulatory bodies in treating the affected area. Stringent controls have been in place since the start of the project to detect and treat such occurrences,” he said. “The tunnel was designed to resist the uplift forces and drainage issues associated with a significant flood event.”



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