THE state government is under pressure to “do the right thing” and delay making any decision on power company AGL’s request for a gas import jetty at Crib Point.
Environment Victoria and Save Westernport say it would be unfair in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic to give the community just 30 days to respond to the “thousands of pages of documents” prepared by AGL.
The adequacy of AGL’s environmental effects statement (EES) for its proposed floating gas terminal and a 56 kilometre pipeline to Pakenham is now being reviewed by the Department for Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) before being released for public exhibition.
Victor Komarovsky, community organiser at Environment Victoria said extending the time for public submissions would be “the right thing” to do.
“AGL has had nearly two years to put together thousands of pages of documents. It isn’t fair that the community would be given only 30 days to respond, in the middle of a global pandemic lockdown, all without being able to physically meet and deliberate,” Mr Komarovsky said.
“Online public hearings might work in the CBD, but not here. Many people here are on dial-up speeds, if they have internet at all.”
Mr Komarovsky said Planning Minister Richard Wynne should instigate a process and timeline reflecting “the circumstances we’re in that acknowledges the challenges faced by communities up against big companies. This can’t be rushed”.
When requiring AGL to provide an EES in October 2018, Mr Wynne said the project “has the potential for significant environmental effects” including “risk to some aspects of the ecology in the north arm of the Western Port Ramsar site”, which is protected under an international agreement.
There were “potential effects” also from the pipeline needed to carry gas from Crib Point to Pakenham on waterways and Ramsar site “and on Aboriginal cultural heritage”.
However, Mr Wynne added that these “significant effects and other residual effects could be assessed and managed through a range of separate statutory processes”.
The AGL proposal includes mooring a 300-metre long floating gas plant at the existing Crib Point jetty, to convert liquid natural gas (LNG) into gas, and building new jetty.
Save Westernport’s steering committee has told Mr Wynne that the public exhibition of AGL’s EES should be postponed “until the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted”.
“AGL’s apparent push for the EES to proceed without consideration for the implications of the current state of emergency on people’s lives is consistent with the contempt they’ve shown this community and its wishes ever since their incursion into Westernport began in 2017,” the committee stated in a letter to Mr Wynne.
The committee said it was “essential that the Mr Wynne remains beyond the influence of AGL”.
“By making use of his discretionary powers, he can ensure that the EES does not proceed in a way that is rushed or that appears to give the proponent an advantage.
“Compromising the effectiveness of the EES to accommodate the proponent would be highly inappropriate, particularly if it incorporates new untried methods that could be seen to discourage community involvement or that limit the effectiveness of their contribution.
“No precedent exists for an EES to be held only online.”
Chris Atmore, of Save Westernport, said those opposing AGL’s plans would be “doubly disadvantaged” if a “virtual EES process” was used “given the state government’s decision to hold back on implementing most of the new EPA Act for at least a year [which has] has stronger requirements for successful applications for development licences which the [Crib Point] project requires”.