Hay Point port owners must operate under new conditions

Coal ports like this one at Hay Point provide economic benefits, but residents from Mackay to Sarina are now being surveyed on another proposed port at Dudgeon Point.
Coal ports like this one at Hay Point provide economic benefits, but residents from Mackay to Sarina are now being surveyed on another proposed port at Dudgeon Point. Peter Holt

THE owners of the port at Hay Point have been forced to monitor for coral disease and implement an environmental management plan for a 378,000 cubic metre dredging and dumping project in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

First approved in May this year, the maintenance dredging project would dredge the sediment from shipping channelsand dump it inside the marine park.

But the marine park authority's approval was challenged in June by the Australian Marine Conservation Society, in a bid to make the authority reconsider the green light.

That application this week resulted in a range of new conditions being put on the project, including that an environmental management plan, that was first only asked to be written, will actually be implemented.

While both the developer, North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, and the authority, said the plan was always intended to be put in place, the change will now ensure it is.

And after new research revealed that dredging and dumping near coral reefs could double the risk of coral disease, the authority has also demanded the port monitor for traces of disease in the area.

The new conditions also demanded that dredging be further limited during coral spawning months, which a port spokeswoman said would create "some additional costs" for the project, due to rescheduling of works.

However, despite the permit occurring in the marine park and World Heritage Area, potentially triggering a referral under national environment laws to the Federal Environment Department, a referral was not completed.

The port had originally claimed in its permit application the project would not affect "matters of national environmental significance", to which the marine park authority agreed.

AMCS reef campaigner Felicity Wishart said the extra conditions were welcome, but said the original conditions as "shoddy" and the project should not have been approved in the first place.

Ms Wishart said the lack of the original permit to demand the environmental plan be implemented also raised further questions about the authority's "role and independence".

An authority spokeswoman said the plan was "always required to be implemented"; but after the society's application, "steps were taken to make this explicit in the new conditions".

She also said when such requests were made, the authority could take into account new information, such as the study linking dredging and coral disease, to ensure permit conditions reflected the "best available science".

A ports spokeswoman said the project, due to its "scale and nature", did not need to be referred to the environment department.

Topics:  dredging great barrier reef marine park hay point coal terminal port

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