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Government denies Walker's claim of support to destroy wetlands

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Protesters at the Toondah wetlands urged Walker to stay out of the area (Screenshot via YouTube)

A government department has denied claims by a developer that a submission for an environmentally-destructive town plan is in review, writes Steve Bishop.

ACCORDING TO Walker Corporation, a study designed to demonstrate that building a town on internationally protected wetlands will benefit the environment has been lodged with the Morrison Government.

Walker Corporation plans to build a town with a population of about 7,200 on Ramsar-listed wetlands at Toondah Harbour in Queensland's Moreton Bay.

It says it has submitted the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

But there is confusion, with a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment saying a revised draft was still being prepared by Walker.

By law, the EIS must demonstrate how a net benefit will be achieved for the Moreton Bay Ramsar site and other matters of national environmental significance.

The corporation boasts it has ‘support from both state and local government’ for the town of 3,600 homes.

But internal federal government advice has warned the project:

‘...is likely to have a significant impact on the ecological character of the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland... listed threatened species, including marine turtles and the critically-endangered eastern curlew... and listed migratory species, including the dugong.’

There appears to have been no announcement that the EIS has been lodged.

This week, the main Walker Corporation website still reported:

‘A comprehensive Environment Impact Statement... is currently being finalised...’

But a spokesman confirmed a draft statement had been submitted. He refused to answer further questions about the process.

In mid-2020, Sam Maynard, principal environmental scientist and associate partner of Saunders Havill Group, said during a question and answer session organised by Walker Corporation:

“We hope to have the draft completed by November of this year.”

Mr Maynard has been superintending the EIS process for the project but despite having answered questions from the public during two video sessions, he refused to take a phone call from me, saying through a third party:

“He does not want to make any comment or answer any questions at this time.”

If the minister approves the EIS, it will be made public so that people and organisations can make submissions.

During different stages of the project, there was a total of 3,782 public submissions in 2015, 2017 and 2018 with many of them opposed to the development and more than 6,000 signing a petition opposing it in 2020.

The draft EIS has been a long time coming.

A Walker website reports:

“During 2016, we will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) report that will address all of the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of the project.”

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said:

  • In April 2021, Walker Group Holding Pty Limited (Walker) provided a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to the department for consideration.
  • The EPBC Act requires the department review this documentation to ensure it is in accordance with the finalised Guidelines for the preparation of a draft EIS (Guidelines) prior to its publication.
  • In August 2021, the department provided Walker with comments on the adequacy of the draft EIS meeting the requirements of the Guidelines and requested some further information.
  • Currently, Walker is preparing the revised draft EIS.
  • Under the EPBC Act, the minister must not specify a period of less than 20 business days for public consultation.

But the spokesman for Walker Corporation said:

‘A draft EIS has been submitted and the Federal Government has been reviewing that document. It’s now up to them to decide on the timing of its release for the public notification period.’

Steve Bishop is a journalist and author. You can read more from Steve at stevebishop.net

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