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Dear HtS Supporter


Newsletter #17
18 September 2009


Minister sends salt farm plan back for review

The massive salt mine project threatening the unique ecosystem of the Exmouth Gulf has been given yet another lifeline by the State Government, despite strong recommendations against the project by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

Environment Minister Donna Faragher has sent the Yannarie Solar Salt plan back to the EPA for reassessment following the proponent's appeal against the decision.

At a time when we had hoped for decisive action, we have instead been delivered with a ruling that the 4.2 million tone-a-year salt farm on the east coast of Exmouth Gulf warranted "further assessment". In making this ruling, the Minister cited the proponent's claim of new information the EPA had not taken account in its July 2008 report.

Soft touch

In its July 2008 report, the EPA concluded the project was "fundamentally in the wrong place".

"The EPA considers that it is environmentally unacceptable to locate a 17,765 hectare salt field within a wetland of national importance," the report said.

Despite such clear recommendation, the Minister appears to have backed out of making a decision, instead referring the project back to the EPA for yet another review.

The proposed salt mine's 180 square kilometres of solar ponds and rock wall would extensively alter the natural "flood-out" drainage pattern and artificially redirect the flow of sediment and nutrients.

The barrier could effectively starve the Gulf ecosystem of its vital natural resources.

EPA findings 'reasonable'

The Appeals Convenor, assessing challenges to the EPA’s recommendation, concluded the high biodiversity and wetlands value of the area meant the EPA finding on the unsustainability of the proposed location was reasonable.

And he rejected the proponent's view there was no potential conflict between the salt mine and conservation values.

However, the Appeals Convenor noted there were some uncertainties about the effects of the proposal on nutrient sources and effluent seepage. He said in his report that the Minister could either dismiss the appeal or remit it for "fresh assessment" on the understanding that this did not imply the project could be made acceptable.

Disastrous plan

The Yannarie Solar Salt project would pump sea water from Exmouth Gulf into a series of concentrator ponds covering salt flats near mangroves.

The salt mine proposal is unprecedented in scale for Western Australia, involving the construction of a five metre high wall for 35 kilometres, blocking the mangrove and creek systems of the eastern fringe of Exmouth Gulf, interrupting tidal and rainfall run-off that is critical to the survival of this ecosystem.

This footprint represents 19% of the saltflat area adjacent to the 80 kilometre length of the pristine mangrove and algal mat-fringed coastline.

The project will also involve the dredging of a shipping channel through a primary prawn nursery area and storage of a toxic by-product, bitterns, in an area susceptible to cyclones with no firm long-term plan for their disposal or management.

The combined advice of the relevant Government agencies, including Fisheries WA and the EPA, has warned against the salt project in the strongest terms because of the potential long-term damage to the marine environment. The Department of Industry and Resources, Tourism WA, Department of Planning and infrastructure, the Professor of Fisheries Science at Murdoch University, Recfishwest and the WA Fishing Industry Council have also warned against it.

Earlier this year, the original project proponent Straits Resources sold 60 percent of its interests in Straits Bulk and Industrial, including the salt proposal, to Thai company PTT International. PTT is the parent company of PTT Exploration and Production Public Company Limited, the oil and gas international whose rig is responsible for the massive oil spill in the Timor Sea about 250 km off the Kimberly Coast.

In the face of all the expert advice about the danger of this massive salt mine proposal to Western Australia’s precious Exmouth Gulf ecosystem, Halt the Salt is concerned the Minister for the Environment appears to have chosen to give the proponent yet another chance. How many opportunities is this appalling proposal going to get?

Halt the Salt hopes that a final decision does not take another 18 months to eventuate - and that when it is finally made, that it reflects all the scientific evidence to date and rejects this proposal once and for all.

We will keep you informed of further developments as they occur. We urge you to find out more about the environmental impacts of the proposed project by visiting www.haltthesalt.org.au and help us protect this area for current and future generations to enjoy.

If you have not already made a submission, please click here.

Thank you.
John Baas.
Campaign Convenor



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