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The Department of Planning is currently assessing submissions made in response to Energy Australia’s amendment to the Botany Bay Cable project. In the original proposal Energy Australia stressed that there would be no dredging, only trenching. Now they want to include dredging. The Department of Planning received submissions from Randwick Council, Sydney Ports, Maritime, Department of Environment and Climate Change(DECC) and Department of Primary Industries (DPI). If you expected Departments with responsibility for protecting the marine integrity of Bare Island to oppose this threatening process, take a read of what was said by DPI and DECC. There is an attachment to the DECC submission but nowhere is there anything about the significance of the marine creatures and their habitat at Bare Island. Maritime is only interested in watercraft and Sydney Ports is gearing up for its next assault on Botany Bay and it lists requirements to facilitate widening and deepening of the shipping channel from the Heads to the terminals. For good measure the Port’s Senior Manager Planning suggests that Energy Australia will have a greater impact on beaches such as Lady Robinson and Towra than Sydney Ports are having with their third terminal construction. The only stakeholder to go to bat for the Weedy Seadragon and other significant marine creatures in the area has been Randwick Council. Council has again suggested that the cable avoid Bare Island and go via Prince of Wales Drive. Energy Australia have replied that they can’t do this because there are conflicts with the Desalination Project, drilling under the revetment wall would be a ‘high risk’ activity, and access to Port Botany during an emergency may be adversely affected. For some reason the ‘risks’ to residents, the National Park, the La Perouse Headland and the integrity of the marine environment around Bare Island don’t stack up against these other ‘risks’.

In answer to suggestions that Marine Mammals will be disturbed, Energy Australia say that they are rarely seen beyond the Heads. The DECC backs up these statements. Botany Bay has been a sanctuary for Marine Mammals for thousands of years. We look to the DECC to advocate for the environment but as usual when it comes to Botany Bay they are found wanting. In its original submission to the Cable Project, the Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance requested that a valuation of all Heritage items(natural/built) be carried out and a bond be posted. This process was used for the Port Expansion but rejected here.

Peter Garrett’s response to concerns about Weedy Seadragons at Bare Island

 

The latest Botany Bay Cable Project Newsletter – distributed Friday 13th March – makes reference to a ‘prosposed amendment to works in Botany Bay’. In light of the amendment the Minister responsible for the EPBC Act, Peter Garrett, was contacted. This is the email sent and here is the reply.

Energy Australia, after what looks like considerable consultation with Sydney Ports, intend to include dredging as part of this project, with the spoil being diverted to the Port Botany Expansion reclamation site. The details of the amendment are at http://majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au/index.pl?action=view_job&job_id=3041

It has been the classic approach to major development approvals. Bombard the community with paperwork, minimise the outrage by proposing a less invasive method and then after it is approved and the community has stopped paying attention go for the change to a more invasive option and submit the application during the holiday season. In this case it was the 21st January.

The project (without dredging) was referred, under the EPBC Act, to Peter Garrett’s department and in December 2007 his staff deemed the environmental impacts of this development NOT WORTHY of their scrutiny even though the area impacted includes BARE ISLAND, one of the top Diving Sites in the State and home to a number of species supposedly protected under the EPBC Act. By way of comparison, the Botanic Gardens attempts to control Flying Fox numbers is deemed a controlled action and subject to scrutiny by Peter Garrett’s department.

I wrote to Peter Garrett on 7/12/09 asking him to reconsider his department’s decision and make the project a Controlled Action under the EPBC Act. I did not receive a reply. Here is the link to the referral: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/epbc_ap.pl?name=current_referral_detail&proposal_id=3552 You will note that impacts to marine creatures are downplayed.

Now that the Developer (a State owned corporation) is seeking approval from the Consent Authority (a State Government Department) to dredge, Peter Garrett could take another look. Dredging will have more impacts than those outlined in the original Environmental Assessment. The risks were too high then, so it is more important than ever that the Federal Government scrutinise this development.

When the local community was first consulted about the Cable Project one of their suggestions was to direct the cable to Molineux Point and along Prince of Wales Drive to the Bunnerong Sub-Station. It looked like a no-brainer as this route would have been further away from Bare Island, and avoided Botany Bay National Park, the La Perouse Headland and all the residents located along Anzac Parade who would be subject to increased health risks from high voltage cables. But there was no chance that such a route would be considered because the first authority consulted was Sydney Ports and this solution would have impacted port land.

The developer has paid for another Environmental Assessment of the proposed dredging impacts and their consultants consider the impacts ‘insignificant’, ‘unlikely’, and protected species like marine mammals to be ‘irregular’ visitors. It looks like a ‘cut and paste’ job on the original Environmental Assessment. The language is imprecise for good reason because they don’t have hard data. For instance the statement on marine mammals is based on anecdotal evidence provided by National Parks staff working around the Bay, not proper scientific studies.

Here are some of the conclusions in the Environmental Assessment with regard to selected protected species:

Of the EPBC (Section 284) listed fish species (pipe-fishes and sea-horses), a number may occur in the dredging and spoil storage areas. Whilst some individuals may be able to move away from the works, some could be taken up by the dredging operation or smothered by settling material in the storage location. Given the total area of the soft sediment habitat that would be affected, the potential loss of individuals of these species is considered insignificant.

With respect to marine mammals, reptiles and seabirds, it is concluded that whilst a number of dolphins, whales, marine turtles and reptiles are irregular visitors to Botany Bay, they are generally confined to the mouth of the bay and to the southern seagrass and shallow sand bar complex off Towra Point. Whilst direct impacts on these species arising from the proposal are not expected, there may be some potential disturbance due to noise or physical presence. This will be addressed by implementing mitigation measures. There are a number of waders, shore-birds, and fishing birds which utilise the shore and shallow areas in the vicinity of the study area as part of their wider use of the bay for feeding and roosting. Based on the review of aquatic bird usage of the bay, it is considered unlikely that proposal would have any significant impact on any of these species.

Those of you who have been around the Bay for decades may dispute the consultants opinions based on real experience. And for others the famous Mandy Rice-Davies line may spring to mind: “Well he would (say that) wouldn’t he” .

The NSW Department of Planning will, no doubt, approve the dredging amendment. The cable is required, they will argue, because of major developments like the Port Expansion so it will be promoted as ‘all for the good of the State’ as was done for the Port Botany Expansion. However, the Federal Government need not ‘turn a blind eye’. Peter Garrett, as one of his first acts as Environment Minister, signed away the opportunity to scrutinise this development, ‘sans dredging’. But this amendment could invoke the full controlling powers of the EPBC Act.

EPBC, A guide to the most important federal environment legislation. Find out about the role of the EPBC Act with proposals such as the Sugarloaf Pipeline or the Shoalwater Bay rail and port. You can read how he stopped development in Shoalwater Bay north of Rockhampton, but nowhere will you find anything about the marine treasures in his own electorate in Botany Bay.

Extracts from new proposal:

Marine, mammals and reptiles

Over the years there have been sitings of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), seals, marine turtles and reptiles within Botany Bay. These species are irregular visitors to the Botany Bay and their usage of the waterway is generally confined to the mouth of the bay and southern seagrass and shallow sand bar complex off Towra Point.

Sea, shore and wading birds

Fishing seabirds (other than the resident or regionally local cormorants, silver gulls, pelicans plus terns) are not generally associated with the shorelines of the study area and are generally seasonal visitors over the waters of the study corridor. Wader and shorebird species plus migratory fishing birds such as Little Terns, generally do not utilise the project area in high numbers and those that do occur exhibit a fair degree of flexibility in their use of available habitats, utilising other foraging and roosting sites within Botany Bay more frequently.

Overview of impacts

The three key elements of possible impact for aquatic communities are direct disturbance of aquatic habitats from dredging or burial, indirect smothering impacts on aquatic habitats from sediments derived from dredging and spoil disposal activities, and possible indirect impacts on adjacent habitats arising from alterations to wave climate. The worksites are located the following distances from important seagrass and rocky reef aquatic ecosystems:

  • 850 m southwest of the Astrolabe Cove deep reef habitat;
  • 525 m west of the Bare Island bombora reef extension;
  • 700 m northeast of Watts Reef;
  • 1,000 m northeast of the Kurnell seagrass bed;
  • 1,350 m northeast of the fish farm adjacent to Kurnell Pier (Caltex wharf);
  • 3.7 km from the nearest point in the Towra Point Aquatic Reserve (at Bonna Point); and
  • More than 4 km northeast of oyster growing facilities in Quibray Bay.

Some 7.7 ha of soft sediment habitat area is to be disturbed by dredging and disposal. Overall, given the relatively small areas of soft sediment habitat to be disturbed when compared to the available area of this type of habitat in the Bay, it is concluded that the direct impacts of dredging and storage of dredged material would be insignificant. The separation distances between the work sites and important seagrass and rocky reef habitats minimises the potential for direct impacts. The proposal does not involve any works within aquatic or nature reserves in Botany Bay.

Indirect Impacts

There are two indirect smothering impacts on aquatic ecosystems arising from the dredging and spoil disposal works; (i) the possibility of smothering by sediments re-distributed by wave action and (ii) the possibility of smothering or shading from sediment derived from turbidity/sediment plumes arising from the two activities.

The proposed dredging and storage of dredged material is unlikely to disturb Caulerpa plants and introduce fragments to the water column which could be transported to other parts of the bay to settle and grow.