Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey is critical of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry’s report of Paradise Dam. Picture: John Wilson.
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey is critical of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry’s report of Paradise Dam. Picture: John Wilson.

Mayor reacts to dam report and environment approval

BUNDABERG Mayor Jack Dempsey described the construction flaws of Paradise Dam as “professional negligence on a massive scale” after seeing the Commission of Inquiry’s report.

Sunwater has tackled the construction flaws by deciding to lower the spillway by 5.8 metres, which will begin on Monday following an environmental approval that was granted by the Federal Government this week.

But Cr Dempsey said the work has to stop.

Further testing was needed and all engineering options peer reviewed before the dam’s capacity was lowered, he said.

“The inquiry report confirms construction flaws with the design and lack of peer review,” he said.

“The report also acknowledges the dam is stable in circumstances no more severe than those experienced in 2011 and 2013, and notes there is disagreement among experts regarding the appropriate remediation.

“The Bundaberg Region is the food bowl of Australia thanks largely to reliable water supply from Paradise Dam.

“At a time when economic recovery is vital, it makes no sense to put at risk over $2.4 billion of economic prosperity when alternative options haven’t been fully considered.”

Cr Dempsey said the Federal Government’s environmental approval was disappointing, which meant the work could continue.

But Federal Hinkler MP Keith Pitt blamed the lowering of Paradise Dam entirely on the State Government, and he said it was the only government that had the power to replace or repair it.

“The decision made by the Federal Environment Minister was whether lungfish would be affected or not,” Mr Pitt said.

“The Federal Government has no decision making power in relation to reducing the dam’s capacity.

“I will continue to call for more testing of the dam wall and for Paradise Dam to be repaired and restored, or replaced.”

A spokesman representing Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said its department approved the approval which allowed for the temporary suspension of a lungfish transfer device on the dam, and for environmental water flows.

“10 years of monitoring undertaken as part of the project’s conditions of approval provide confidence this will not have a detrimental effect on the lungfish,” he said.

“The variation does not determine wider issues as to the appropriateness of lowering the dam.”

The dam level has fallen to about 45 per cent and will need to drop another three per cent before the essential works are completed.

But a spokesman for the dam’s owner Sunwater said the level did not have to be at 42 per cent for the work to start.

“Initial activity will be focused on the crest of (the) dam, so the current water level provides sufficient work space for this to be undertaken safely,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said that Sunwater applied to the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment last December for an amendment to existing approval conditions, and it receives its approval on Thursday.

This happened to be the same day that the State Government made the Commission of Inquiry report public.

“The amendment relates to the operation of two fishways at the dam, as well Sunwater’s requirement to meet environmental flow objectives,” the spokesman said.

“The amendment will only be in effect for the duration of the essential work.”

State Resources Minister Anthony Lynham used an example of a dam burst that had happened in the US State of Michigan this week, as to why it was important to take precautions.

“Work starts Monday to lower the wall of Paradise Dam so that you can be safe next wet season from a potential dam failure,” he said.

“As I told parliament this week, an independent Commission of Inquiry considers that Sunwater’s position in responding to the risks associated with the dam is reasonable.

“Testing continues to inform the long-term decision to be made down the track.”

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