Tuesday, January 09, 2007

GUNNS chose "worst place possible" for controversial billion dollar pulp mill

January 09, 2007 - Atrocious Location: Timber giant Gunns Ltd has chosen the "worst place possible" in Tasmania to build the highly controversial $1.4 billion pulp mill, which it hopes to have up and running by 2010.

GUNNS Ltd's gigantic pulp mill is proposed for the Tamar River near Bell Bay in northern Tasmania. If it proceeds the mill will eventually consume around 4 million tonnes of logs every year.

Pulp-mill technology expert Dr Warwick Raverty says Long Reach on the Tamar estuary near Bell Bay is an "atrocious location" for an industrial project where bad smells and noxious gases are big environmental obstacles to its approval.

Dr Raverty (a former member of the assesment panel for Gunns' enormous project) tried to convince Gunns to relocate its pulp mill from the Tamar estuary to rural Hampshire. He points to problems of temperature inversions and high levels of particles in the air already experienced by residents of Launceston and the Tamar Valley.

It is estimated that there are at least 20 days a year when air quality in Launceston is "below acceptable safety levels" and that "as many as eight people die prematurely each year because of issues associated with poor air quality."

"Frankly, Gunns chose the most sensitive site in Tasmania they could have..." says Dr Raverty, who stresses he voices his own opinions and not his employer - the CSIRO. The problem for Gunns, says Dr Raverty, is that not only is the proposed pulp mill in an estuary with poor air quality already but it is near a major city - Launceston. He says due to the threat of massive emission and noxious odour problems, Gunns will have to spend millions more dollars on extra fans, filters, pumps and outer casings around its machinery.

He said Gunns was adamant the mill must be built at Long Reach, close to its existing woodchip mill and port facility - because it was cheaper to do so. Only $20 million in cost was involved between a mill on the Tamar, or at another location.

"In a project with an expenditure of $1400 million, you would have to question if this was a sound decision," he said. Dr Raverty warned of potential noxious smells and gases from the pulp mill, yet says he would have no hesitation about living opposite the site.

In September 2006, some 8000 people marched through the streets of Launceston to rally against the Gunns' planned pulp mill. Participants said the rally was a show of strength against the pulp mill which will pollute the air and sea and devastate Tasmanian native forests if it goes ahead.

Gunns is the biggest native-forest logging company in Australia and the biggest hardwood-chip company in the world. Gunns receives the overwhelming majority of logs destined for sawmills and woodchip mills from Tasmania. It owns all four export-woodchip mills in Tasmania. It exports more woodchips from Tasmania than are exported from all mainland states combined.

Gunns exports over four million tonnes of native-forest woodchips each year.

Resource Planning and Development Commission executive commissioner Julian Green and Dr Raverty - two of the four members of the panel assessing Gunns' project - have both quit their positions. Dr Raverty resigned as a member of the pulp-mill assessment panel after receiving legal advice that other consultancy work done by his employer CSIRO-Ensis could "compromise his position on the panel".

The resignation of the assessment panellists could undermine the future of the $1.4 billion project. Ex-Chair Julian Green accused the State Government-driven Pulp Mill Task Force of "undermining the integrity of the assessment panel." Mr Green said his resignation was been brought on by the activities of the taskforce.

Tasmanian Liberal leader Will Hodgman said the Government had failed to heed earlier warnings. He said the Labor government - in it's "arrogant and bullish" way - had done more damage to the pulp mill project than assisted it. Tasmanian Greens Opposition Leader Peg Putt and Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne welcomed Dr Raverty's departure from the panel. Ms Putt said the resignations reflect badly on the pulp mill assessment process.

The Wilderness Society has called for the Tasmanian Government to abolish its Pulp Mill Task Force. "The Pulp Mill Task Force has masqueraded as a public-information body but has mainly been providing blatant propaganda services to Gunns’ proposed pulp mill at taxpayers’ expense," said Geoff Law, Campaign Coordinator for the Wilderness Society in Tasmania.

"Its activities have now contaminated the RPDC’s assessment of the pulp mill so much that the RPDC chief has resigned," Mr Law said. "The credibility of the pulpmill assessment is now in tatters. The Pulp Mill Task Force is an example of clumsy pro-pulpmill bias by the Government. It’s a gross waste of taxpayers’ funds and should be abolished."

On its special website established for the pulp mill project Gunns claims it's proposal will be "the world's greenest pulp mill".

But Dr Raverty told the Examiner "the project’s proximity to Launceston and the risk of adverse effects to the public meant it should only be approved if it was better than any mill that had been built in the world to date."

His statement comes after numerous warnings from other bodies about the likely effects of the mill’s potentially devastating emissions.

Amongst the litany of opposition to the project, there are direct criticisms from a Tasmanian Government department about potential dioxin pollution in Bass Strait. The Australian Medical Association has said that "increased pollution could increase deaths" in the Tamar Valley - a region the AMA says already suffers deaths from particulate pollution. The AMA's Dr Andrew Jackson said (about scientific modelling on pollution put forward by Gunns Limited), "we found that the science modelling that's been used has holes in it big enough to drive a log truck through..."

"Dr Raverty’s voice has been added to a chorus of concern from independent experts over the pulp mill’s potential impacts on the health of people living in the Tamar Valley," said TWS's Mr Law. "The mill has been proposed for the wrong location," he said.

However, Gunns chairman John Gay says the mill has already met the guidelines required and could be ready for construction this year.

Mr Gay accused pulp mill opponents of pressuring the RPDC chief to quit.


The current pulp-mill dramas follow the recent groundbreaking Federal Court decision that logging in the Tasmanian Wielangta Forest has been illegal.

The ramifications of this decision for all logging in Tasmania have yet to be established. The Federal Court found the state agency Forestry Tasmania, which supervises logging on public land, failed to take account of its effect on three endangered species in the Wielangta forest.


News Ltd
Gunns Ltd Pulp Mill Project - Corporate site
Pulpmill Proposal - Department of Economic Development
TWS - Gunns' Proposed Pulp Mill
TWS Media Release
The Age
ABC News

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