Port expansion - not with a bang but a whimper!

(As published in full in the Townsville Bulletin, Tuesday 3 October, 2017 - "Dredging spells stress")

Port Expansion – not with a bang but a whimper!

The decision of the Queensland Coordinator General to approve the massive expansion of the Townsville Port is another sad day for anyone genuinely interested in the beauty, the attractiveness and liveability of Townsville.

Yes, the project was subject to environmental impact assessment, but to call this rigorous is not true. The system involves the port employing consultants to prepare a report on the impact of the proposed development. Public comments on this report are considered (or dismissed) by the port and it is the port who delivers the findings to the government. The fox is well and truly in charge of the hen-house.

The widening, deepening and endless annual maintenance dredging of the port access channel will have direct impacts on the reefs, sea grasses and marine environment on which many marine species (including dugongs, dolphins, turtles and fish) depend, and which generations of Townsvilleans have enjoyed over life times. With annual dumping of hundreds of thousands of maintenance dredge spoil in the waters between Magnetic Island and Cleveland Bay and this being continually re-suspended by currents and wind driven waves, how could this be otherwise?

Residents and visitors to the island will tell you that the reefs and marine environment have been declining for decades – the marine tourism experience for our children, ourselves and our tourists is much diminished, shamefully, on our watch.

Townsville may yet proceed with this unnecessary development, at taxpayers expense, because who can stop “development” – but the price will be paid. The irony of attracting more and larger cruise vessels to a region losing its environmental beauty and attractiveness as a consequence is immense. Do we really want to become the ‘Gladstone of the North’, where no local with any sense would eat a fish taken from the harbour – but there are lots of jobs!

I came to Townsville because I love the Island and the climate; but both are changing rapidly because of human activity. The Federal government, facing global reaction to the possible loss of the Great Barrier Reef, the expert arguments of scientists, and continuing extreme concern from the World Heritage Committee, may choose to disagree with the State. But, if not, with port expansion being yet another blow to our severely challenged marine environment, we could be facing not the coup de grace but the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, at least locally. As T.S. Elliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper”.

Can we really blame people, particularly Islanders, for wanting to defend their homes, the World Heritage environment, and the Reef on their doorstep. To call these people radical or ideological is misleading. They are merely protecting what, over time and with daily exposure, has become an extension of themselves, like our children and beloved friends and they are ailing.

Russell Kelly, Coordinator, North Queensland Conservation Council

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