Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Gladstone Harbour- dredging up what went wrong

This is the latest in a recent series of belated reports emerging showing how environmental breaches went unreported in Gladstone Harbour after the onset of the major dredging program for access to the LNG plants under construction on Curtis Island.
The Gladstone Ports Corporation recently claimed there was a "small leak" in the reclamation bund wall containing acid sulphate mud and a cocktail of heavy metals and other industrial deposits laid down over about 50 years and never previously dredged.
Fish, turtles, dolphin and dugong were sick and dying, people were hospitalised with severe infections but the authorities claimed it was all due to the flood in 2011, one of the most moderate floods on the Queensland coast at that time.

This article in The Brisbane Times shows one example of how things went wrong, but we weren't told when it was happening:

Two senior engineers have told exactly how the controversial bund wall in Gladstone Harbour leaked in 2011 and 2012, letting dirty dredge spoil flow out to the Great Barrier Reef.
A protective geotextile cloth that was originally supposed to be built inside the porous bund wall, was instead laid on the inside wall of the bund wall.
It was half the thickness of the originally-designed geotextile cloth and simply tore, crumpled and "ballooned away" from the bund wall as the tide rose and fell in 2011 and 2012.

Vision demonstrating failings in the bund wall at Gladstone Harbour. Photo: Supplied
This left large holes in the bund wall for the dredge spoil to leak through on the rising tide in Gladstone's Harbour.
After seeing the presentation on Friday, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is asking questions about the expected scrutiny of future dredging operations in Queensland.
On Friday, GRMPA decided not to give a permit to allow dredging spoil to be dumped in reef waters until further tests are finished in late January.

Vision demonstrating failings in the bund wall at Gladstone Harbour. Photo: Supplied
Gladstone Harbour's bund wall was built in 2011 because 25 million tonnes of sediment had to be dredged to make way for the harbour expansion for the liquid natural gas industry.
The wall was needed to protect marine fauna (largely fish and turtles) and flora (largely sea grass).
The Gladstone Harbour result - as shown by experienced engineers Bill Service, a dredging supervisor with QGC; and Warren Hornsey, an engineer who works with geosynthetic materials - was explained to Griffith University students in August for $5.
Their presentation: "Gladstone Harbour Dredged Spoil Bund Wall - What Went Wrong" was presented at Griffith's Gold Coast campus on August 21.
The bund wall failure in 2011 has never been explained in detail to journalists, who have questioned the conditions in the harbour for two years.
The pair found:
the rising tide caused the "geotextile cloth" to split horizontally;
in some cases the geotextile was not secured at the bottom and simply lifted up;
"there were crumpled areas, tears, rips and holes due to the water movements."
Bill Service and Warren Hornsey, say the leaking was caused by problems with the lining - which was thinner than originally proposed - and not being placed within the bund wall.
"This resulted in a porous wall, which relied on a geotextile fabric lining material to prevent fine dredged spoil from leaking through the wall," the authors said.
"Unfortunately, problems arose with the lining, resulting in significant leakage of dredged spoil."
The bund wall was built by Abigroup, confimed by this site as part of Gladstone Harbour's Western Dredging Project.
A spokeswoman for Abigroup said they met its contract requirements for the project.
“Abigroup delivered on their contractual obligations in relation to the Gladstone Port Corporation Seawall project,” said an Abigroup spokesperson.
The Queensland Government said Abigroup was not fined by the previous state government,or the existing state government for the leaks.
"No, Abigroup was not fined," a spokswoman said.
"Abigroup was a contractor engaged by the Gladstone Port Corporation (GPC)," she said.
"Any breach of tender would be a commercial matter for GPC to consider."
A Gladstone Port Corporation spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on why the original bund wall design was changed, or whether Abigroup was ever fined for the dredge spoil leaks.
GBRMPA this week refused to grant the permit to allow three million cubic metres of dredge spoil to be dumped in Reef waters and extended a decision until 31 January 2014.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has approved dredging to expand Abbot Point coal port but GBRMPA must issue a permit before dredge spoil can be dumped.
Gladstone Harbour now has a day-to-day monitoring site of water conditions in the harbour.


  1. From today's The Australian (where is Hutcho when the GPC needs him?): From today's The Australian:
    "GLADSTONE Ports Corporation was forced to seek urgent permission to breach its environmental approvals in a race to plug a leaking bund wall before it ran out of space to store potentially toxic acid sulphate soils from dredging associated with the $33 billion Curtis Island LNG export terminals.
    An application for a "transitional environment program" lodged in June last year confirms the environmental impact of the original bund wall failure and how an initial response had not fixed the problem.
    Gladstone Ports has consistently denied the leaking bund wall was responsible for a collapse of fish health in the harbour in late 2011. A series of investigations has blamed the poor harbour health on record flooding early in 2011. But documents show the Ports Corporation was aware of the extent of the environmental threat posed by the bund wall failure..."

    And it wasn't only fish health. People were hospitalised with serious infections, but the authorities always claimed it had nothing to do with the harbour water quality. A senior GPC official actually claimed at the time it was probably due to poor hygiene practices.

  2. Would GPC exposure to liability will be even greater now than if they faced up to the problem at the time?

  3. Ducking and weaving is the usual response Dale but the big question is, were the State and Federal authorities aware of the problem as GPC claims they were at the time? There would surely be a case for serious charges to be laid if they knowingly hushed up potential serious health problems. All the public was ever told is "the floods did it".


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