Cairns Port dredge EIS finally sees the light of day…and it kills the project

The previous LNP government withheld the release of the Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed dredging of Trinity Inlet until after the QLD state elections. Finally we get to see the report (available for download here) and it is clear that the recent Federal moves to ban the dumping of capital dredge spoil anywhere within the GBR Marine Park will sound the death knell on the project.

The report identifies a preferred marine dump site (Option 1) which is within the GBR Marine Park. This option comes at a cost of some $102 million (well above the $40m that the previous Government pledged pre-election) and a direct benefit cost ratio of 2.7; which would make the project look potentially interesting, even allowing for some over-optimistic benefit assumptions. The vast bulk of the EIS (all but the Executive Summary) has been written using the marine based Option 1 as the base case.

However, as the Executive Summary makes clear, proposed changes to legislation announced after the bulk of the Report had been completed make marine based dumping of capital spoil in the GBR Marine Park a highly unlikely possible option. The report notes that there is only one marine based option which is not within the GBR Marine Park (Option 2) and that it is “unlikely that a full EIS of Option 2 would show this option is appropriate“.

The EIS also considered a number of land based options for the disposal of capital dredge spoil with the preferred option being East Trinity. However, the cost of this option varied between $365m and $440m (depending upon whether the area was used simply for disposal or for subsequent development). Using these costings the direct benefit cost ratio would seem to fall to somewhere between 0.8 and 0.7 (these figures are not explicitly included in the EIS since the report focuses exclusively on the preferred marine based disposal option, but are calculated using the figures quoted in Appendix 9 of the report, Economic Analysis). The Report acknowledges that this higher level of cost makes the land based options only worthy of further study “if Government assesses that the additional costs can be justified”. At the suggested level of benefit:cost that would seem highly unlikely.

Indeed the new Queensland government has made it clear that they do not consider that the “additional costs can be justified” and as a result have made it clear that the proposal is now dead in the water. (Cairns Post; Trinity Inlet dredging canned).

You can also read a slightly different take on the story at the new Cairns Now news-blog site.

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