Townsville’s $232M Port Expansion Begins, Dive Operators Fear Impact of Dredging

Trade, defense and tourism opportunities will no longer bypass Townsville, say supporters of the next phase of the city’s long-awaited port canal expansion.

The $232 million project to widen the Townsville Shipping Canal to allow ships up to 1,000 feet in length to enter North Queensland has bipartisan political support.

Australia’s largest dredger dredger, the Woomera, which will soon start work on the project, was welcomed by traditional owners with a smoking ceremony on Wednesday.

According to Hall Contracting, which won the bid for the project, the machine will excavate 30 swimming pools’ worth of ocean sediment from the existing shipping port to more than double its width.

A traditional smoking ceremony was held to welcome the Woomera. (ABC North Queensland: Jade Toomey)

Bring bigger ships

The project will be the largest in the port’s 158-year history and comes as North Queensland’s economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

Queensland Resources Minister and Member of Townsville Scott Stewart said when the modernization is complete it would attract large ships that normally dock in Brisbane.

“They then unload their containers to send them back here (north) and that doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“It will then allow us to load ships from the Northwest Minerals Province here to bring our product offshore and to international markets…which will be part of our economic recovery post COVID-19.”

Four men and a woman stand at a dock in Townsville HarborFour men and a woman stand at a dock in Townsville Harbor
Labor and Liberal politicians in north Queensland have pledged funding for the project.(ABC North Queensland: Jade Toomey)

The project is funded with $105 million from the state government, $75 million from the Commonwealth and $52 million from the Port of Townsville.

Confederation member for Herbert Phillip Thompson said the port has created 1,400 jobs for North Queensland.

“It will create 70 additional full-time positions, and 90 percent will be local … 93 percent will be from Queensland,” he said.

Hall Contracting will use the Woomera to widen the fairway from 92 meters to 180 meters at the port end.

Excavator Stunts Diving Vision

Underwater tourism groups on nearby Magnetic Island fear the dredging will cause serious visibility problems in key parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

Tom Glenning, co-owner of the diving company, said dredging has caused significant problems in the past.

“When the dredging is underway it makes almost nothing visible underwater … and it deters a lot of people who come up once a year and don’t come back during the dredging,” Mr Glenning said.

“They can really phrase it any way they want, but if you’re picking up soft sediment from the bottom [of the ocean] There will be some leakage, even a small amount will affect the water quality.

A picture of cloudy water and a diver and some coral in the foreground.A picture of cloudy water and a diver and some coral in the foreground.
Divers fear the project will affect visibility at popular dive sites off Magnetic Island. (Scope of delivery: Pleasure Divers)

“When customers can’t dive and don’t want to dive because the water quality is pretty bad, we have a really hard time.”

Port of Townsville chief executive Ranee Crosby said dredged tailings would be stored on land to be used in a 62-acre reclamation area, rather than being dumped at sea.

“Dredging is best practice, so using a dredger instead of a suction dredger means we reduce the risk of plumes of sediment by 90 percent compared to the standard method,” she said.

“It takes longer, but it’s the best way to protect the environment.

“This project underwent a rigorous seven-year environmental impact assessment process before receiving approval from state and federal regulators in 2017 and 2018,” she said.


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