Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Yamba Mega Port: nothing to see here, move along

This is the ‘back of the envelope’ mapping done by Australian Infrastructure Developments Pty Ltd for its proposed plan to construct an industrial port on 27.2 per cent of the entire Clarence River Estuary. Neat, tidy and full of unnaturally straight lines.

When asked about impacts on the environment the proposed industrialisation of the Port of Yamba would cause, the spokespeople for Australian Infrastructure Developments usually only have two things to say.

Firstly they point out that the initial environmental advice (which no-one outside the company appears to have sighted) gives the all clear – especially with regard to seagrass beds which supposedly do not exist in the channels to be dredged under this plan.

Secondly they say the Environmental Impact Statement which will have to be produced before they can move forward will be the company’s guideline for development.

In recent weeks there has been a third claim and that is that the company will cut another “entrance” on the north side of the river mouth so that Dirragun reef can lie undisturbed.

We are told there’s nothing for Lower Clarence communities to worry about at all.

But what do people actually living in the Clarence Estuary know about their river?

Well, firstly locals know that there are sea grass beds along the route the large cargo vessels will take back and forth from the four proposed terminals and, that the seagrass beds from the western end of Goodwood Island down the channel leading to the container terminal will in all likelihood be destroyed by the company’s deep channel dredging. 

They are also aware of the degree of mangrove loss likely to occur and, the saltmarsh that will be eliminated during construction along with roosting & feeding habitat of migratory birds protected under the internationally recognised Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA), Australia-China Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA) and Republic of Korea–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (ROKAMBA).

These three agreements oblige the governments concerned; to take appropriate measures to preserve and enhance the environment of listed migratory species, including the establishment of sanctuaries.

Living as they do in a richly biodiverse region, locals are well aware that the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act also provides for protection of migratory species as a matter of National Environmental Significance.

[Clarence River County Council, Clarence Estuary Management Plan, 2006]
Click on images to enlarge

In fact locals know full well that Des Euen and his backers would have to play merry hell with estuarine and intertidal areas of a wetlands system that eight years ago the NSW Department of Environment was recommending should be placed on the National Reserve System [Clarence Lowlands Wetland Conservation Assessment, December 2008].

Secondly, locals are aware that any genuine Environmental Impact Statement would point to all these risks and more.

Thirdly, there is the puzzling matter of the proposed new harbour entrance which has surfaced.

As anyone can see on the snapshot of part of the NSW Roads and Maritime Services coastal boating map (below), the north side of the harbour mouth is already listed as the safe route for shipping to enter the estuary – the approach leads are clearly marked.
Click on image to enlarge
So where is this new entrance to be cut? Some or all of the 1,280m north breakwater wall built between 1952-1968 under the Clarence Harbour Works Act would have to be removed – and therein lies the rub.

Prior to construction of the entrance works floods caused significant changes to the shape of the river entrance and the location of navigable channels (Soros Longworth & McKenzie 1978) and the partial or complete removal of one or both of these walls is likely to see sand build up in the river between Iluka and Hickey Island as it did in the mid-1800s and/or further inside the smooth water limit of the main channel. Maintenance dredging may have to be an annual event, rather than a probable bi-annual event to keep the proposed new port navigable.

I won’t even go near the loss of a measure of protection in heavy seas and storms for all boats seeking harbour – the evidence of our own eyes during this year’s east coast lows are enough to give most of the population of Yamba and Iluka a fair idea of what to expect.

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