Dredging up a toxic threat to Sydney

Volumes could be written about the environmental consequences of the Berejiklian government’s proposed Yarra Bay mega cruise ship terminal. The proposal is an environmental stinker of the first order.

In this post, guest contributor Cameron Rogers focuses on just one aspect of one of the big issues – dredging of contaminated seabed sediment.

The dredging required for a mega cruise ship terminal in Botany Bay poses a significant environmental threat to all coastal residents of Sydney; and if the Royal Caribbean cruise line, the Port Authority of NSW and the NSW Liberal Government were to get their way, by 2023 many of Sydney’s most iconic ocean beaches would be suffering from significant environmental contamination.

A mega cruise ship terminal in Botany Bay would require the dredging of millions of tonnes of seabed sediment (spoil) to create a shipping channel, swing basin and berth boxes for two 350 metre mega cruise ships.

Some of the sediment would be used for reclamation of land side terminal space, the rest would be towed out of Botany Bay in barges and dumped at sea – as close to Sydney’s coastline as the NSW government could get away with.

As a guide, to what might happen, the dredged spoil from the Port Botany expansion, highly contaminated with Tributyltin (TBT), was dumped off the coast of Sydney out to sea from Clovelly / Gordons Bay, only to wash back into shore around Coogee.

Why would it be any different this time? Allowing this development would see contaminants entering the marine food chain and being deposited in beach sands up and down the Sydney shoreline for years to come.

The spoil from dredging in Yarra Bay would contain legacy substances:

  • from many years of unregulated industry:
    • in Matraville
    • in the old industrial suburbs south of the Sydney CBD (Alexandria, Rosebery, Mascot etc)
    • in suburbs adjacent to the Cooks river and its tributaries
  • and from shipping in Botany Bay and aviation at Mascot.

The NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warnings in place to not disturb the sediment in many of the rivers, estuaries, channels and canals that drain into Botany Bay. This is because years of industry and shipping have deposited toxic substances deep within the now stable sediment of the bay. Products such as:

  • polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and heavy metals such as mercury and lead from the years of operation of the Bunnerong coal fired power station
  • organochlorine pesticides (Chlordane, DDT, and Dieldrin)
  • Tributyltin (TBT) an anti-fouling agent, and banned product that “is one of the most poisonous substances to be released to the aquatic environment today”.

Of equal concern are highly toxic Per and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) from Sydney Airport and other locations where firefighters have trained. The EPA already has warnings in place regarding the consumption of fish caught in the bay area, mostly due to PFAS (see EPA PFAS Warning Botany Bay area).

Fishing in Botany Bay would be most unwise after the dredging, with our recreational fishers having to wait for years until the remaining contaminants were again fixed in a re-settled sea bed.

Lest anyone think that everything would settle down once the dredging for the new cruise ship terminal was complete, keep in mind that maintenance dredging would be required regularly to remove sediments transported by currents from nearby areas and accumulating in the artificially deepened channels and berths. This maintenance dredging would ensure that every 5-10 years, more contamination would be unlocked, dispersed and dumped at sea.

You may ask how the NSW government would get around the extreme environmental concerns related to dredging. Don’t they have a responsibility to the local population? Aren’t there environmental laws in place to stop this outrage?

Probably not. The NSW government would be expected to classify the project a State Significant Development, so it would not require any of the normal environmental permission processes that a commercial proposal needs to work through. Many laws and regulations could then be bypassed, with the only protection left being the need to inform a minister of what was about to be done.

For example, Section 201 of the Fisheries Management Act provides that a permit is required before carrying out any dredging or reclamation works. However, under the provisions of section 199 of the Act, the Ports Authority of NSW, being a public authority, is exempted from the need to obtain approval for dredging and reclamation, but must provide written notice to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. That’s it – one minister says it is OK, and the project proponent does whatever they want!

Surely you would think that this kind of development could be challenged via the Land and Environment Court? No, I am sorry, the NSW government have thought of this too!

There would be no right of appeal to the Land and Environment Court under section 97 or section 98 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, once the project was declared a State Significant Development.

An environmental disaster is poised to unfold before our eyes. Please tell your friends and whoever else will listen that the Berejiklian government’s mega cruise ship proposal for Yarra Bay must be stopped before it is too late!

No consultation without information

As expected, yesterday’s consultations with the Port Authority of NSW project team broke down.

The Port Authority’s powerless public servants and consultants had no information to provide – the Berejiklian government has stamped everything pertaining to the project Cabinet-in-confidence or commercial-in-confidence.

The Port Authority project team just wanted to outline their consultation process going forward (which we already knew about from the very lightweight brochure they letter-boxed in neighbourhoods near Yarra Bay). It was an exercise in government subterfuge, a meeting to do nothing and reveal nothing and a complete waste of everyone’s time.

For over a year, the NSW government has ignored community requests for information that could lead to engagement. Meanwhile, they have forged ahead with detailed talks with their cruise ship industry clients. For example we know that they have shared information about the preliminary strategic business case with the cruise industry as part of a market sounding process.

Now, Port Authority staff have been delegated to ask for a community response – but are unwilling to accept that it is impossible for us to respond when they won’t outline what they are planning and are deliberately keeping us in the dark. The process is unfair, totally lacking in transparency and is rejected by the communities we represent.

Port Authority staff kept saying “We want to start a relationship with you.” We left them with this message:

“We don’t want a relationship. We want to stop this by showing you what a ridiculous, dangerous, environmentally and socially destructive proposal it is. We have no interest in a partnership with you that helps you to confuse and placate an angry community so you can get away with building your terminal.”

We brought the meeting to an end by stating our position:

“We cannot meet again until you release the information we have requested: your preliminary studies, the strategic business case and your plans for the terminal. Those documents will enable us to sit down with our committee of scientists, engineers and other experts to prepare an evidence-based response. For consultation to occur, you must treat us with the same respect you have accorded the foreign-owned cruise industry.”

The only glimmer of hope we took out of the meeting was the Port Authority senior manager’s admission that if the business case is not positive, it is possible the project will not proceed. WE WILL HOLD HIM TO THAT.

At the meeting, the community was represented by Maria Poulos, Peter Fagan, Cheryl Rennie, Derek Zilich (Save the Bay Coalition), Trevor Walker (Indigenous Representative), Stan Konstantaras (President, Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW), Barry Wallace (President, Yarra Bay Sailing Club). And we say thank you to many others for your contributions beforehand and your ongoing support.

Consultation must begin with information

The Port Authority of NSW wants to “consult” with the community and other stakeholders regarding its proposed Yarra Bay or Molineux Point mega cruise ship terminal. However the Port Authority continues to balk at providing the essential ingredient of successful consultation: meaningful information about what they propose to build.

In response to their invitation:

“As discussed, we would like to meet with Save the Bay Coalition to provide an update, meet the project team, answer your questions and continue to get your feedback.”

our advice to the Port Authority was that we were expecting consultation to provide the following specific information:

  • Substantive and to scale drawings that show the locations of the proposed berths, breakwaters, land reclamations, land acquisitions, terminal structures, roadworks, and other infrastructure for each of the options being considered for the proposed mega cruise ship terminal.
  • Preliminary environmental impact assessments for the above.
  • Early estimates of total cost for each option.
  • The results of the preliminary strategic business case and justification for the claim that the proposal is technically feasibile.
  • Information the Port Authority has shared or plans to share with the cruise line industry, as part of the market sounding process.

Following discussions with the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW, we will include, in future communication with the Port Authority, the following additional items that pertain to on-water impacts on recreational fishers, fish and biodiversity:

  • The terminal / mooring footprint on the water for each option.
  • Proposed dredging plans for each option.

We insist that consultation must begin with us being granted access to the above strategic phase information, and permission to share it with our community of stakeholders.

Why do we insist on this information?

We have explained to the Port Authority:

“You will appreciate that unless the community knows at a substantive level of detail what you are proposing to build and what it would cost, we are unable to provide sensible and meaningful responses to you.”

And we insist that until we know what the Port Authority proposes to build, it cannot be said that we have been consulted.

Should the Port Authority refuse to make the information available, we will make it clear that there has not been consultation. And we will remind them that if the NSW Government progresses the proposal without consultation, they will be imposing it on the community without having obtained any social licence for it.

What does the Port Authority mean by consultation?

They have told us:

“An important part of this project is seeking feedback from stakeholders and the community to help shape a potential third cruise terminal.

Through consultation we want to understand in more detail:

  • how the community uses the area near the two potential sites
  • what the community enjoys and values about the local area
  • other information that will help minimise potential construction and operational impacts.

We are also interested in seeking ideas that the local community and stakeholders may have for how the area might be used in the future, should a potential terminal be progressed.”

Clearly, the Port Authority’s idea of consultation works from the premise that the mega cruise ship terminal is a fait accompli. Consequently, we are pessimistic about the usefulness of the consultation they propose to the affected stakeholders.

Community responds to Port Authority land grab

The Save Yarra Bay stall at today’s (Sunday, 22 September) Randwick City Eco-Living Expo was overwhelmed with support from members of the community.

There was a phenomenal amount of interest and concern. Everyone who spoke to us is horrified by the Port Authority of NSW and NSW Government proposed land and sea grab and their complete disregard for the wishes of the local community. Not a single person who talked to us saw merit in the proposal.

It was a very positive day. The whole expo event was great and we were 100% heartened by support from the community. Watch out Port Authority your plans for Yarra Bay are unacceptable to the people who live in Randwick City and Bayside Council areas.

The Berejiklian government is the ultimate driver of the extravagant and destructive proposal to deliver a mega cruise ship terminal on behalf of their patrons, the foreign owned cruise lines. However they have nominated Port Authority of NSW as the manager of their campaign, so at this point you may find it appropriate to express your opinions to the Port Authority at the following email address:

haveyoursaycruise@portauthoritynsw.com.au

Randwick Council prepares to fight cruise ship terminal

At Randwick City Council’s monthly meeting on Tuesday 27 August, a Mayoral Minute to fund and commence Council’s research into the impacts of a cruise ship terminal in Molineux Point and Yarra Bay was passed unanimously.

For the full text of the Mayoral Minute, click here (and go to item 7. in the table of contents).

The community fight against a mega cruise ship terminal at Yarra Bay just got real with Randwick City Council unanimously voting to fund its own research into the impacts of a cruise terminal on the Bay.

Council’s studies will provide an essential reality check on the overblown and unprovable benefit claims we are expecting from the NSW Government’s strategic business case.

Council’s studies will also provide expert analysis of the social and environmental impacts of this development, in contrast to the Government’s offering that we expect will attempt to downplay them.

Councillor Danny Said, Labor: Mayor Neilson’s Mayoral Minute was voted on unanimously. As a council we continue to leave no stone unturned, to continue our fight on behalf of the residents to keep the Mega Cruise Ships out of Yarra Bay.

Councillor Anthony Andrews, Independent: Unanimous support by all Councillors. United we stand.

Councillor Carlos Da Rocha, Independent: No Way not Yarra Bay. It was a proud moment for all of us Councillors to unanimously vote in support of the motion for the funding to carry out the study.

Maria Poulos, Convenor Save the Bay Coalition: Thank you to Randwick Councillors for listening to the community’s concerns and fighting with us!! This could be a game-changer.

Save the Bay campaign wins support of ClubsNSW

On Tuesday 13 August, the Eastern Suburbs branch of ClubsNSW held their regular meeting at Yarra Bay Sailing Club.

ClubsNSW is the peak representational body for the NSW club industry.

At the meeting, the case for the protection of Yarra Bay and its sailing club from cruise ship terminal over-development was made by former Souths Juniors chairman Henry Morris, who chaired the meeting.

Following this, Yarra Bay Sailing Club President Barry Wallace spoke to the threat that cruise ship terminal over-development posed for the club.

The meeting being in agreement that Yarra Bay Sailing Club was threatened, and deserved to be supported, Henry Morris will now follow up with the full Executive of ClubsNSW.

Save the Bay Coalition welcomes ClubsNSW support of the extensive sporting and community programs of Yarra Bay Sailing Club.

Bayside Council opposes Yarra Bay cruise ship terminal

At the regular monthly Meeting of Bayside Council on Wednesday 10 July 2019, a motion on the Berejiklian government’s proposed Yarra Bay mega cruise ship terminal was moved by Councillor Christina Curry and seconded by Councillor Scott Morrissey. The motion (below) was passed unanimously.

Great work Councillors Christina Curry and Scott Morrissey. And thank you, Bayside Council for your support once again.

Both Councils directly impacted by the mega cruise ship terminal – Bayside and Randwick City – have now passed unanimous motions opposing the proposal. Will the Berejiklian government listen?

The motion and background concerning the terminal’s impact on Bayside Council communities and beaches were reported in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader.

In an article entitled Another blow to Sydney’s second cruise terminal, web site cruisepassenger.com.au appears to be finally communicating the message that Sydney does not want a mega cruise ship terminal that will ruin one of its precious beaches and sailing bays and cause congestion and air pollution in neighbouring suburbs.

Thank you Christina, Scott and Bayside Council for helping to get the message through to the cruise industry.

The article also points out that:

“In the coming cruise season, many lines like Princess Cruises have put a record number of ships at ports around the country to try and offset the capacity issues in New South Wales.”

Save Yarra Bay encourages the cruise industry to continue with this regional strategy which benefits regional cities and towns and reduces cruise industry pressure on Sydney.