Desal tension erupts

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Desal tension erupts

By Jane Ross
THE tension between desalination plant consortium AquaSure and protest group Watershed Victoria has exploded.
Each accuses the other of dirty tactics.
AquaSure chairman Chloe Munro has issued an open letter to Watershed accusing some of its members of intimidating, harassing and embarrassing its staff at the desalination information office in Wonthaggi.
Watershed denies the allegations and has issued its own open letter to AquaSure, highlighting concerns about impacts of the plant’s construction on the environment and community life. It says questions are constantly put, but answers don’t come.
“Instead, we are increasingly being ignored and belittled by communications staff from AquaSure and DSE,” states their letter.
In the midst of the drama, come revelations at the weekend that AquaSure is gathering “intelligence” about protestors and their activities and passing the details on to police.
This is the reverse of earlier worries about intelligence-gathering, whereby police had been authorised by the State Government to pass such information on to AquaSure.
According to Watershed president Stephen Cannon of Dalyston, the switch “muddies the waters”.
“Who’s doing what? It now seems the delegation of the spying function has gone to the private consortium.
“It’s character-assassination,” he added, “they’re attempting to portray you as a quasi-terrorist.”
Bass MLA Ken Smith is appalled by what he termed “spying on our local community”.
He said desalination protests had always been conducted in a controlled and lawful way and “this government has treated them with absolute contempt”.
AquaSure CEO Chris Herbert, said the consortium and its contractors “are not in the business of intelligence gathering.
“In doing so, we are responsible for public and worker safety, if we have valid concerns that there is a threat to public or worker safety we will, like any responsible organisation, report these concerns to the relevant authorities.”
Ms Munro’s complaints about the behaviour of a group of Watershed members stem from March 9.
“The staff on duty were confronted by a group of ten people, who subjected our staff to loud verbal harassment and a range of inappropriate personal questions.
That’s not how it was according to Jessica Harrison, who was part of the group. Ms Harrison lives in Wonthaggi. She said the visit to the desalination information office was an impromptu one, following a demonstration outside the Wonthaggi branches of the National Australia and Westpac banks over desalination funding issues.
She said the group was seeking answers to two long-standing and controversial questions: would the plant’s intake and outlet pipes end at an offshore reef or continue beyond it and would sludge resulting from the desalination process be dumped at Lyndhurst or somewhere else?
“We’re worried. We are trying to get those facts out in the open,” said Ms Harrison. “We were not threatening to staff.”
Mr Cannon said no complaint had been referred to him by AquaSure.
Ms Munro’s letter said AquaSure and its contractors are endeavouring to deliver desalination “with the utmost consideration and care of the local community and the local environment”.
Watershed’s open letter calls for the release of a traffic management strategy, a comprehensive list of chemicals to be used by the plant, details of waste disposal and assurances that iron sludge and organic matter will not be discharged to the sea.
Mr Cannon, who was not part of the group visit to the desalination information office on March 9, told The Star he thought it would be more constructive for AquaSure to answer these questions rather than “tattle taling”.
Responding to a number of questions put by The Star yesterday, Mr Herbert said Watershed had been “advised repeatedly” that a final decision has not been made about where the marine intake and outlet structures will be located; that rests with the EPA.

Short URL: http://www.thestar.com.au/?p=164

Posted by SiteAdmin on Mar 16 2010. Filed under Uncategorized. 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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