Independent investigation into Gladstone dredging project

A MAJOR independent investigation into the Australia's largest-ever dredging project could not have come at a worse time, as the allegations risk casting a pall over whether another dredging effort be undertaken near Bowen to expand the Abbot Point coal terminal.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced the independent Commission of Inquiry on Monday morning in the aftermath of fish, turtles, dugongs and dolphins dying within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The inquiry will look at whether a problem with a boundary or bund wall was the fault of designers or builders.

"It's a chance to find out what lessons can be learnt and to determine if action needs to be taken," Mr Hunt said.

In less than two weeks, reef gatekeepers- the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority - will decide whether to issue a permit to allow 3 million cubic metres of material to be lifted from near the Abbot Point terminal and relocated into the marine park area.

The Gladstone Ports Corporation dredging effort at 27 million cubic metres was nine-times larger than the one planned by North Queensland Bulk Corporation for Abbot Point.

The Abbot Point dredging plan was given approval by Mr Hunt late last year, on the condition that water quality is even healthier following the campaign.

The Australian Greens are pushing to have GBRMPA reject the dredging permit, which would likely hinder billions in coal development for the Galilee Basin west of Rockhampton.

Queensland Senator Larissa Waters questioned how another dredging campaign near the reef could be approved even as an earlier effort was under investigation.

"We can't allow the devastation in Gladstone, which tourism and fishing operators are still suffering from, to be repeated anywhere else in the Great Barrier Reef," she said.

GBRMPA must make its decision on dredging by January 31 and increasing public pressure could sway the result.

A spokeswoman said "community and stakeholder concerns are considered part of the risk assessment".

The resources industry and NQBP have each pointed to research by the Australian Institute of Marine Science report from 2012 that showed after 27 years of port development - including dredging - the chief threats to coral was storm damage, followed by crown-of-thorns starfish and bleaching.



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