RESIDENTS concerned about environmental impacts if a planned expansion of the Port of Hastings goes ahead turned out in force to an information session in Cowes last week. The community engagement session, run by the Port of Hastings Development Authority (PHDA), allowed residents interested in learning more about the project to pop in, have a coffee and ask questions. Several of the residents attending during the early part of the four-hour afternoon session were already well-researched and armed with a list of questions, mostly relating to the development’s impact on the environment and fishing industry. “It’s desal mark two,” Cowes environmentalist Maurice Schinkel said bluntly. “And these information sessions are worse than useless.” The PHDA will be developing a business case over the next four years and completing scientific investigations in the next 12 months, which will include land and sea-based sample surveys. Mr Schinkel views the container expansion, which the State Government committed another $110 million dollars to earlier in year for further planning, as “a major threat” to the Island’s tourism industry and environment. Bringing up the expansion at several Bass Coast Shire meetings this year during question time, Mr Schinkel believes it’s high time the council took a stance on the matter. “Council should take a stance of opposition to it, drawing on the many adverse impacts it will have on Phillip Island tourism,” he said. Keen angler Kevin Chambers from The Gurdies made a presentation to councillors Neil Rankine and Phil Wright earlier last week at a ‘Community Plus’ session at Newhaven, in which he covered the effect possible dredging could have on the tides and coastal erosion. He said that if mud banks around French Island are dredged in order to allow a wider shipping channel, it could spell disaster for beaches from Cowes right through to Tooradin. “If they are not going to dredge either the Middle Bank or its surrounding area on the west side of French Island or a similar area off and including Tortoise Head Bank to the south of French Island, then let the PHDA come out with that statement now,” Mr Chambers urged. “If they won’t, then we the people who know and love Western Port Bay as it is, will continue to oppose this development”. Mr Chambers has written a four-page discussion paper on the topic, which he has submitted to councillors and council officers.
‘There will be dredging’
PHDA CEO Mike Lean said most questions asked at a similar drop-in session at Hastings recently revolved around employment opportunities, but confirmed questions about the environment were also asked by residents. He said that when questions are asked about dredging, he doesn’t shy away from answering. “There will be dredging,” Mr Lean said. “Every port in the world has to dredge.” “What the upcoming surveys will tell us is where and how much we need to dredge.” From December, a jack-up barge will take borehole samples from 110 marine locations within shipping channels, anchorages and off the Tyabb coastline, in the north arm and port area of Western Port. Mr Lean confirmed locals and visitors to Cowes will not see a large barge in the distance during the upcoming summer holidays. “That was a decision we made early on,” he said. “It’s a visual amenity thing, so people won’t look out and see the barge on the water and wonder what it is.” Mr Lean said he had briefed Bass Coast councillors on the project and had made contact with Phillip Island Nature Parks. “I’ve met briefly with Nature Parks’ environment manager and in the in New Year we intend to go down to talk further with them,” he said. “We don’t envisage an impact on the parks’ activities. “But we’re certainly mindful people have concerns about increasing the numbers of ships.” Mr Lean stressed that it’s “very, very early days” for the project. “And we want the community’s ideas, concerns and issues to be presented at the start so we can act on them,” he said. Ventnor resident Steve Malone, who also attended last week’s drop-in session, questioned whether an environmental study of any kind would have any effect on the project now the State Government has already made “a huge financial commitment”. “There’ll be no turning back,” Mr Malone said. “I’m worried about the Island. “We got railroaded with the desal plant and I just see it happening all over again.”
‘Why risk it?’ asks Cr Wright
Churchill ward councillor Phil Wright said his position on the Port of Hastings expansion is the same as his thoughts on the controversial car ferry terminal for Cowes: “Too much to lose and very little to gain.” “The Draft Victorian Coastal Strategy has identified that the Victorian coast brings in $9 million annually,” Cr Wright said. “A combination of natural assets and tourism creates a very stable sector of the economy. “Why risk it?” Cr Wright said the project has “many risks for the Island”. “The survival of the penguin colony will be threatened by small drops of oil by every ship and the possible destruction of marine habitat by dredging,” he said. “The dredging will also increase the currents and possibly take large amounts of sand from the northern coast of the island and other areas of Western Port.” He believes a new port capable of handling millions of containers per year for Melbourne should be positioned closer to the west, in either Geelong or Werribee. “It is time that politicians stood back and considered future generations and their need for high quality environmental values, which will have a huge economic value,” he said. If the expansion is given the green light by the State Government, construction is not expected to begin for at least another five years. A Phillip Island Nature Parks spokesperson confirmed there would be talks with PHDA early next year but declined to comment on the project. Bass Coast Shire Council is yet to formally state whether it supports or opposes the port expansion. Further information about the development can be found at www.portofhastings.com/