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Pulp mill could taint catch: fishing industry -

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Pulp mill could taint catch: fishing industry

Reporter: Jocelyn Nettlefold

In Tasmania the deadline has now passed for the public to comment on the controversial pulp mill
development proposed by timber giant, Gunns Limited. If documents revealed in Federal Court are any
indication, Gunns is confident of getting a green light. But widespread concerns remain that the
company has not adequately addressed the issues of air and marine pollution.


KERRY O'BRIEN: Now to Tasmania, where the deadline has passed for the public to have its final say
on the controversial pulp mill development proposed by timber giant Gunns Limited. The company says
it needs a verdict from both state and federal governments by the end of August. And if documents
revealed in the Federal Court last week are any guide, Gunns is confident of getting the green
light. It has already locked in contracts to start building in September.

But widespread concerns remain that the company has not adequately addressed the issue of air and
marine pollution. The fishing industry fears effluent from the mill could taint its catch, worth
almost $500,000 each year. Jocelyn Nettlefold reports.

JOHN HAMMOND, SCALLOP FISHERMAN: I've been fishing for about 40 years, scallop fishing since 1970.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: John Hammond wants his son to take over the helm of the family boat and
business, yet he fears there may soon be no future for professional fishermen working off
Tasmania's north coast. They're worried about the possible environmental impact of Australia's
biggest ever pulp mill proposed for northern Tasmania.

JOHN HAMMOND: What we're looking at as a fishing industry is that the Government is going to
licence these people who are proponents with the mill to pollute. It'll be a licence to pollute.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Gunns Limited's $1.7-billion project is being hailed by the Tasmanian
Government as the state's economic saviour, with the prospect of more than 1,600 ongoing jobs.

BARRY CHIPMAN, TIMBER COMMUNITIES AUSTRALIA: To communities that depend upon our forest industry,
this pulp mill is their future. It takes them into a world of value-adding.

JOHN HAMMOND: Does anyone care about democracy or due process?

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Despite years of company and government assurances, there remains deep
community uncertainty about the mill's potential impacts on air quality, and what millions of
litres of effluent pumped into Bass Strait every day may do to marine life.

JOHN HAMMOND: The perception thing is everything for Tasmania's clean green image. If our image is
tarnished anywhere, whether it be scallops, shark, whatever - it will spill over to the beef
industry, it will spill over everywhere. Tasmania has got pollution, how could Tasmania have

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Gunns originally proposed a totally chlorine-free mill on the banks of the
Tamar River. It then switched to what it says, is a state of the art down-streaming initiative to
convert wood chips to pulp via a chlorine dioxide bleaching process. The pulp would be used for
high-quality paper. Both state and federal governments wanted it assessed by an independent
planning body the RPDC (Resource Planning and Development Commission). But impatient for a verdict,
Gunns quit the process four months ago. That prompted new laws from the Tasmanian Parliament for a
fast-track assessment by Scandinavian consultants, SWECO PIC. The Premier Paul Lennon is promising,
it will be rigorous.

PAUL LENNON, TASMANIAN PREMIER: There's ample opportunity here for Tasmania's professional fishers
and their organisations to continue to raise their issues, to make sure that they're considered to
their satisfaction.

NEIL STUMP, TASMANIAN FISHING INDUSTRY COUNCIL: The lack of real response, you know, to a lot of
these questions, with some of the questions being fobbed off. You know, it's a bit like a mother
giving you cod liver oil, "Take this it's good for you".

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The Federal Government is conducting its own assessment despite a challenge in
the Federal Court by the Wilderness Society. Affidavits from the case reveal that without approvals
in place, Gunns has struck an agreement with construction firms to start building the mill on the
first of September.

Each day of the delay beyond this, claims the company, would cost it more than a million dollars a
day. Such confidence without the green light from authorities warrants further investigation, says
Tasmanian Greens MP, Kim Booth.

KIM BOOTH, TASMANIAN GREENS MP: And the fact that they've done that indicates that they have either
got a secret nod or a wink, or they're a very poorly managed corporation that has taken a huge risk
with its shareholders' funds by simply presuming that they will be able to build it.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Do you have any concerns that it makes it look like the Government has already
made a decision if when Gunns does something like that.

PAUL LENNON: See the Government can't make a decision can it? Parliament makes the decision.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Parliament is awaiting for the report from the Government-appointed consultant.
So too are those deeply worried about timber supply, air and marine pollution.

JOHN HAMMOND: We're not going to need anything much longer once this crap starts.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Like other members of the Tasmanian fishing industry, John Hammond and Stuart
Richie fear scallops and fish stocks would be tainted by chemical effluent discharged via a giant
pipeline three kilometres off shore.

JOHN HAMMOND: About where the arrow is the outlet, and they're 200 metres away from where we expect
the outlet to be at 2.2 mile offshore, is last year where we caught scallops in the scallop survey.

STUART RICHIE: So this thing is going to be a disaster for everything in that area.

JOHN HAMMOND: Absolutely.

LES BAKER, GUNNS PROJECT MANAGER: It will have no impact in terms of emissions both in the water
and in the air on the environment around us.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Modelling done by Gunns consultants claims pollution won't pose any problems,
but the science has not been fully peer reviewed.

chlorine dioxide process, which actually in the process, creates a lot of chlorine gas and
solution. So, there's no historical data, we actually have no idea what the actual emissions will
be until the mill starts.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Curtain University's Professor Andrew Wadsley, a petrochemical consultant,
spent four weeks examining Gunns' data. He believes dioxin levels could be up to 1,400-times
greater than the company suggests, rendering seafood too toxic to eat.

ANDREW WADSLEY: The calculation or the impact of dioxin in the sediment and fish was fundamentally
flawed because they actually used the wrong equations.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: According to Professor Wadsley, dioxins would latch onto the organic carbons in
the sediment, and start building up. As more effluent is pumped into Bass Strait, he says, dioxins
in the sediment would reach saturation level, and eventually the concentration in the water column
and sediment would be in equilibrium. The Premier says the claims will be examined by consultant

PAUL LENNON: Well again, I mean this is a matter that SWECO PIC is looking at. Now, SWECO PIC are
the experts in this field, they have far more expertise in this area than Professor Wadsley does.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: A Gunns spokesman says chairman John Gay was not available to be interviewed
about the mounting concern over potential marine pollution. The company stands by its own
consultants, dismissing Professor Wadsley's research as scare-mongering.

ANDREW WADSLEY: I'm not scaremongering, I'm just doing the sums. I have a PhD in mathematics, I've
been 30 years in the petroleum industry. I just try and tell the truth when it comes out, and if
there's a problem in the arithmetic let Gunns sort it out.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The company will have its chance to respond to such concerns before the entire
matter is referred to the Federal Government, which has jurisdiction over threatened and migratory
species and marine pollution. The Tasmanian Parliament is expecting to vote on the mill before

BARRY CHIPMAN: It will not impact upon other industries. It will actually have great enhancement
for other industries like our tourism industry.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The timber industry may be relying on the project for its future, yet fishermen
are yet to be convinced it won't damage theirs.

JOHN HAMMOND: Unless something is done in the regulation side of it, this thing has got potential
to cost us hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars damage. There's not enough trees
here to fix the bloody mess they're going to make, that's for sure.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Jocelyn Nettlefold with that report.

(c) 2007 ABC