In August ’08 the Gippsland Coastal Board (GCB) successfully appealed a coastal council decision to build houses 3m high off the ground one kilometre back from the coast. One key reason for their intervention was their predicted effect of sea level rise of 0.8m on the Gippsland coast.

The same body had no objection to the upgrading Gas Plant in the delta of the Snowy River just an estimated 0.25cm above the one-in-100 yr flood level, estimated at 4.76m on a site 5.0m above sea level. There was no intervention in the Planning process by the GCB for this project, indeed members of its Board played a key role in its approval.

In 2001 the original Gas Plant was named after the Patricia and Baleen wells that fed it. The plant was built by the resource company OMV adjacent to Corringle Creek which flows from Ewings marsh into the Snowy Lower, both of which are listed as wetlands of National Significance. Production was anticipated for 8 years but both wells have already expired.

In 2002 the NSW, Victoria and Federal Governments agreed to spend $375 million of taxpayers’ money to begin restoring the stream flow of the Snowy River, lapping up the media attention at the time

Despite this, in 2004 OMV gained the necessary approvals to extend the original plant for the Sole Gas well — but that development didn’t happen. In late 2007 Santos, that had bought out OMV, applied for a further upgrade of the same site to process gas from their Longtom well. Santos took the planning permit application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (VCAT) before the local council had made a decision.

This Upgrade was required because the Longtom gas contained considerable quantities of liquid hydrocarbons (see attached Planning Application page 8) and processing involved the storage of hundreds of thousands of litres of toxic chemicals on site. There had already been a series of spills at the site (See A summary of incident reports attached).

Many locals were unhappy with the development — but it promised jobs and had the support of the Independent member Craig Ingram who was elected to ‘Save the Snowy’. There were a number of objections to the Works Approval permit for the Longtom upgrade.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) set up a “Community Hearing” to hear objections in Orbost. The ‘Independent Chairman’ of this hearing was Duncan Malcolm, the chairman of GBC. After hearing submissions he wrote recommending the EPA approve Santos’ application, which they did.

In an odd twist the same consultants employed by the GCB to produce the reports on the affects of sea level rise and coastal subsidence on Gippsland had previously evaluated the flood risk at the site for the Sole Extension.

The Sole Flood Level report was used as the basis for subsequent approval of the Longtom Upgrade despite questions being raised as to its accuracy. The affects of the interaction with sea level rises and increased storm activity appear to have been under stated for this project.

With all State bodies either silent or approving of this project, those opposed to it pinned their hopes on a the proposal being referred under the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act. Santos managed to get into the Environment Department office and present directly to those considering the referral and apparently this presentation impressed them to.

Louise Crisp from Gippsland Environment Group said,

When I rang … David Jackson Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts said considering the native vegetation off-sets that Santos are proposing it would be like a nature reserve down there … and there will be no referral.

The Gas Plant has its final approval — but is it safe from rising tides?