23/07/2008 - 09:21

EPA decides against Exmouth salt project

23/07/2008 - 09:21

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Perth miner Straits Resources Ltd has been dealt a blow with the state's environment watchdog recommending against a proposal to build a $200 million solar salt farm in the Exmouth Gulf.

Perth miner Straits Resources Ltd has been dealt a blow with the state's environment watchdog recommending against a proposal to build a $200 million solar salt farm in the Exmouth Gulf.

In a report to the environment minister, the Environmental Protection Authority chairman Paul Vogel said the proposal for the 4.2 million tonne per annum salt farm presented unacceptably high risks of environmental harm to wetland values.

"The whole of the east coast of Exmouth Gulf, including all of the salt flats and in-shore waters, are listed as a wetland of national importance," Dr Vogel said.

"The EPA recognises wetlands that are listed in A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia as 'critical assets' representing the most important environmental assets in the State and requiring the highest level of protection.

"Although the 17,765 hectare salt field is proposed to be largely located on an area of apparently bare salt flats, their disturbance could have serious and irreversible adverse impacts on the algal mats and mangroves which underpin the productivity of the wetland and Exmouth Gulf."

Dr Vogel said that the production of salt also resulted in the production of bitterns, which can cause a serious impact on marine water quality.

"If there's an accidental or release (of bitterns) through natural processes, for example sea level rise and extreme surge events and that material finds its way into the marine environment it can cause serious impact," Dr Vogel said.

"One of the issues that causes EPA serious concern is that there is no long term management plan for bitterns post ten years."

The EPA's recommendation is a coup for the 'Halt the Salt' alliance, which involves the Conservation Council of WA, MG Kailis Group and the Pearl Producers Association, which welcomed the decision and urged the state government to follow the watchdog's advice.

Halt the Salt spokesperson Nic Dunlop said if the mine were to go ahead, it would impact local tourism and the pearling and prawning industries.

"The precious Exmouth Gulf would be damaged forever, all in the name of producing salt for the plastics and petrochemicals industry in Asia," Mr Dunlop said.

"We will be sending submissions to the state government to reject the salt mine proposal and encourage others to do the same to help preserve this precious and environmentally important ecosystem."

The EPA said over 2600 submissions were received relating to the proposal where the project, at full capacity of 10Mtpa, would double the state's salt output.

It involved the pumping of seawater into large, shallow ponds, where the water would evaporate to produce salt, which would be transported on barges to bulk carriers anchored in the gulf.

The EPA report is subject to appeal until August 4.

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