Abbot Point Coal Terminal.
Abbot Point Coal Terminal. Lee Constable

Senate hears plan to use dredging spoil to build airport

THE SEDIMENT planned to be dredged from Abbot Point and dumped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park should be used to fill in the Bowen salt pans to help build an international freight airport for local growers.

That was the crux of a proposal that the new owners of the old Cheetham saltworks have put to the port's owners, the marine park authority and government departments in recent months.

Futura Holdings' director Kevin Murphy also pitched the project to a Senate committee hearing in Mackay two weeks ago, in a bid to get more support for the project.

However, the unusual idea could already face an uphill battle, as Mr Murphy's company has not yet put it through the state or federal approvals processes.

Mr Murphy's company bought the saltworks for $1 million in January this year to build a plant to grow algae for agricultural feed, but he said the group will only need 5% of the land for the development.

Alongside it, he plans to fill in the acres of salt pans to create a flat ground, with an overarching plan to buy the Bowen airport and extend the runway to create an "international freight hub" to take Bowen produce direct to Asian consumers.

Currently, he said, most of the produce and fruit grown around the region was trucked first to Brisbane and on to markets in Melbourne and Sydney or exported via Brisbane Airport.

He said if the airport runway was extended east out over the salt pans, it could potentially take massive Boeing 767-600 aircraft, which could carry up to 110 tonnes of produce each flight, shaving two hours off the current export journey.

To fill the salt pans in, Mr Murphy said his project hoped it might be able to access the three million cubic metres of spoil planned to be dredged from Abbot Point and dumped in the marine park.

The spoil could potentially be ferried to the salt pans, and pumped about 600mt on-shore for lime treatment before filling in the saltworks for potential development.

Mr Murphy said it could cost $14 million to treat the sediment with lime before using it on the ground, but he believed it could be a better environmental option than offshore dumping.

However, with much of the approval process to dump the spoil offshore already in place, the developers face an uphill battle to change the existing plans.

A spokeswoman for the marine park authority also confirmed that while Mr Murphy had approached them with the proposal, he had not put it through the appropriate applications process.

She said the authority was only able to make an assessment on the basis of actual permit applications, and the North Queensland Bulk Ports, the Abbot Point owners, "did not contain the type of option outlined by Mr Murphy".

The new chief executive of the port, Steve Lewis, said he had not heard about the proposal "in full", and that the logistics of using the dredged spoil on the salt pans "make it difficult".

However, Mr Murphy said he had already spoken to dredge contractors who were working in Brisbane, where he said they were pumping spoil some 6km overland to a reclamation area.

He said any port that had the opportunity for reclamation, rather than sea dumping, should do it; but that "dredge spoil comes from the ocean, so it should be left in, or relocated to elsewhere in, the ocean."

Should Abbot Pt dredge spoil be used as landfill?

This poll ended on 06 August 2014.

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