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Desal threat official

Frustration: Stella Hitchens had had enough of it all and announced she was leaving the briefing. AquaSure CEO Chris Herbert challenged her on the way out and their continuing exchange appeared to amuse Mr Herbert and further enrage Ms Hitchens.

THE Wonthaggi desalination plant’s outlets and outfalls are a key threat to the Bunurong marine reserve.

And that’s official.

It says so in the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority’s (WGCMA) 2013-19 West Gippsland Regional Catchment Strategy.

The State Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith agrees because he endorsed the document on May 15.

But desalination plant consortium AquaSure didn’t know anything about it.

Members of their top echelon do now though because it was brought to their attention by long-standing desal protestor Maurice Schinkel of Cowes.

AquaSure sent eight of its big guns to a briefing in the Bass Coast Shire Council Chamber last week.

They were there at the invitation of council.

Mr Schinkel and some of his colleagues who have ongoing concerns about the plant’s impact on the local marine environment were in the gallery.

Facing the AquaSure contingent seated separately from the main body of the gallery, Mr Schinkel asked, “Are you aware the West Gippsland Regional Catchment Strategy says desalination outfall is a key threat to the Bunurong marine asset?”

“We are not aware of it,” came the response.

“Where are you, what are you doing?” Mr Schinkel demanded to know.

He later told The Star AquaSure had plenty of opportunity to say “no” to that description in the WGCMA strategy because it had come out in draft form before being finalised.

“We now have the minister signing off on it; you can’t feign ignorance.”

WGCMA CEO Martin Fuller said the strategy was developed over a two year period.

Mr Schinkel’s revelation wasn’t the only excitement in an otherwise dull briefing.

Towards the end it became too much for Stella Hitchens of Wonthaggi.

She had been sitting next to Kimberley Neave who periodically displayed a poster saying “AquaSure still dodgy”.

Ms Hitchens stood and declared, “God help us and the sea. I have to go. I can’t stand this any longer.”

As she walked past the AquaSure contingent, its CEO Chris Herbert who was seated near the door looked at her and said, “You haven’t changed your view!”

His riposte set off a heated exchange between himself and Ms Hitchens while hapless mayor Cr Clare Le Serve did her best to restore order.

Deputy mayor Cr Neil Rankine had a difference of opinion with Mr Herbert too – albeit in a more restrained fashion.

Someone in the gallery asked AquaSure to give a one page letter commitment to council guaranteeing to the community the plant would run on 100 per cent renewable energy.

Mr Herbert responded, “You know this plant runs on renewable energy.”

“I beg your pardon,” Cr Rankine rejoined, “it purchases credits.”

The briefing frustrated Cr Phil Wright who moved the motion in July last year to invite AquaSure and the EPA to an open meeting.  As he was trying to ask questions, Cr Clare Le Serve reminded him there were time constraints.

“It’s not fair,” he said.

The briefing was addressed by the Gippsland manager of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Dieter Melzer.

He didn’t endear himself to those in the gallery when Cr Wright asked him if there had been any reporting of discharge from the plant into Bass Strait.

Mr Melzer replied, “I don’t know.”

As audible guffaws came from the gallery, Mr Melzer defended himself by saying monitoring of the desalination plant was in the process of being handed over to the Gippsland EPA office.

Mr Herbert explained there were four levels of control governing water quality, describing them as “significant”.

Plant director Mike Jury added the plant was governed by a “strict regulatory framework” and Thiess Degremont environment manager Chris Wendt said 36 of the plant’s 238 environmental requirements were specific to the inlet and outlets structures.

In the end, AquaSure agreed to ensure its annual performance report to the EPA would be posted on its website.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=7234

Posted by on May 28 2013. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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