Australia’s environment minister says he isn’t fast-tracking approvals for a proposal to dump dredge spoil onto sensitive Queensland wetlands.
Greg Hunt is in the process of deciding whether to approve a Queensland government plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredged spoil onshore at Abbot Point.
The dredging is being carried out to as part of an approved expansion project to turn the coal port into one of the largest in the world.
This week Mr Hunt’s department released a document saying the project would be assessed on “preliminary documentation,” not a separate Environmental Impact Statement.
However, a spokesman from Mr Hunt’s office said the proposals would require “a full environmental impact assessment” under “stringent” environmental protection laws.
“This will be a very rigorous process,” the spokesman said in a statement to AAP.
“The assessments, scientific advice and public comments will all be considered before a final decision is made.”
The spokesman says assessments will look at potential impacts on threatened species, migratory species and the marine park, among others.
The spokesman did not respond to further questions on whether the proponents would be required to complete a new EIS for the onshore dumping plan, separate to the offshore plan documents.
Green groups this week said Mr Hunt was fast-tracking the approvals process by not requiring proponents to carry out a separate EIS, and instead relying on reports from an offshore disposal plan.
They claimed he was bowing to pressure from mining companies who want to begin the dredge project by March.
“For someone who has talked about being committed to the highest, most stringent and vigorous assessment he has lowered the bar,” Australian Marine Conservation Society spokeswoman Felicity Wishart said on Wednesday.
She said the impacts of the “potentially toxic spoil” on the sensitive and nationally significant Caley Wetlands couldn’t be assessed using old documents.
The state put forward the onshore disposal plan after a backlash over an already approved proposal by proponents to dump the spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The Abbot Point expansion is a crucial step in the development of $28.4 billion of coal reserves in the Galilee Basin.
By Cleo Fraser