Dredging of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay could go ahead early next year after a State Government environmental impact review gave it the go-ahead yesterday.
The $760 million project to deepen Victoria’s shipping channel has been controversial, and findings in the environmental report that the project was “safe, suitable and technically feasible” have received mixed welcomes from government, business and environmental groups.
State Premier John Brumby says the project to deepen the nation’s largest container port was essential, while the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry has embraced the plan, saying it would boost Victoria’s reputation as the manufacturing, transport and distribution hub of the nation.
Environmentalists have been less keen. The Australian Conservation Foundation and Victorian National Parks Association say the project was approved without giving sufficient detail on how it would proceed to protect the bay’s environmental, social and economic values.
The leading environment groups say the project’s approval is just another in a list of recent marine missteps by the Victorian Government, such as the approval of a desalination plant. They say a financial safety net should be established to ensure money is available to help repair damage.
State Planning Minister Justin Madden says the findings of the $70 million environmental investigation was rigorous and the effects of the dredging have been addressed, but the company who wins the tender to dredge the bay will have to put up a bond to pay for any environmental damage. More than $6 million has been set aside for mitigating environmental effects.
The project is expected to be funded by an addition to the container levy on shippers, a Victorian taxpayer contribution and a possible Federal contribution.
Before the work can start the Federal Environment Minister has to approve the project.