Dredging material from the Evans River being dumped on the beach side of the holding bay. Photos Richard Gates
Evans Head residents fear spoil from the current dredging of the Evans River being dumped on the local beach may be contaminated with toxic sludge.
The concerns come as the controversial dredging of the Brunswick Heads boat harbour is set to start this week, despite Byron Shire Council asking the state government to delay the $600,000-plus operation.
Council recently told the Crown Lands department that it would refuse to allow the dredging vessel to use its boat ramp till questions on the program had been answered.
No community consultation has taken place on the multi-million-dollar program for the northern rivers, which was National Party pre-election promise.
It’s believed land and water minister Niall Blair’s staff have written to Byron Council, ignoring its request and telling council the dredging at Brunswick Heads harbour and river was due to start yesterday (Monday).
The Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development group fear their local beach may be contaminated by the dumped spoil, which they say is heavily laden with ‘very dark material’.
They want to know what testing regime is in place to make sure the spoil is not contaminated in any way.
Dr Richard Gates, vice-president of the group, told Echonetdaily that he had seen only one sample being taken ‘some time ago, and that spoil was relatively clear compared with the current spoil’.
Dr Gates said that yesterday, clean sand was being dug up and piled on the beach and the area behind it was being loaded with the spoil from the dredging of the Evans River channel opposite the boat harbour.
‘It looks as if the clean sand from the beach is being used to cover over the darker sand which of course begs the question what happens when the covering sand washes away, which inevitably will happen,’ Dr Gates said.
‘We’ve already seen some of the sand washed away on high tides,’ he said.
‘The spoil seems to be heavily laden with very dark material.
‘There is now a dark plume of water running north along the surfing beach.
‘No wonder the quality of coastal waters in is decline! It would seem that the current dredging regime is contributing to that problem’.
Dr Gates said locals want to know what is the nature of the spoil and if there was ‘any evidence that it contains any toxic contaminants particularly given its origins from near the old slipway and channel leading to the boat harbour?’
He also wanted to know what independent checks were being made of the testing regime and whether it was adequate, ‘given the history of the Office of Environment and Heritage with regard to the Salty Lakes disaster and contamination of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome.’
‘What is the evidence base for the decision to dump the spoil on the beach in this particular location and who made that decision and/or gave advice?’ Dr Gates asked.
He also asked ‘what was the nature of the consultation process with the community’, what monitoring regime was in place and whether ’this is an effective use of taxpayer funds’.
‘You will no doubt be aware of the recent Richmond River Health study which wasn’t exactly positive about the state of that river,’ Dr Gates said.
‘Part of the flow from the Richmond runs into the Evans River estuary through the Tuckombil Canal, a man-made canal.
‘We know from previous studies that thousands of tonnes of silt from the Richmond run into the Evans River every year.
‘Perhaps some of the current “muck” being dredged from the Evans is from the Richmond.
‘If it is, then there must be a move to look at filling in the Tuckombil Canal back to its original flood plain status to protect the health of the Evans River.
‘Given that work is to start soon on the new Pacific highway upgrade around the Tuckombil Canal, why not take the opportunity to fill in the canal?’
Echonetdaily is waiting for answers from minister Blair’s office to a number of questions on the dredging at both Evans Head.