Confusion reigns over the fate of dinosaur footprints believed to be in the path of the proposed gas plant at James Price Point, with ministers unable to agree on whether they would be affected.
Last week, Environment Minister Bill Marmion told ABC Kimberley that some footprints at the site would "absolutely have to go" and he wasn’t sure if they could be moved or protected.
But Premier Colin Barnett then told ABC’s Q and A this week that the proposed plant had been moved 900m to the south to avoid dinosaur footprints and they wouldn’t be affected.
"They stretch for 200km along that coastline … the beachfront, if you like, of this plant, is 1km and it actually will be built around so it won’t even impact on those," he said.
University of Queensland palaeontologist Steve Salisbury said that statement was "incredibly misleading".
"The LNG processing facility will be set back off the coast, but the only way the gas can be processed is by bringing it onshore via pipelines that must cut across the Heritage-listed intertidal zone containing the dinosaur footprints," he said.
"The only way that the gas, once liquefied, can be exported is via a massive marine port, which will result in the destruction of 1.5-2km of the Heritage-listed intertidal zone."
Scientific studies by international palaeontologists in 2011 found the dinosaur tracksite extended south from James Price Point for about 750m into the proposed precinct as well as around it.
The scientists, who spent 11 days surveying 58 sites, stressed they had not had enough time for a thorough evaluation.
In response, the Environmental Protection Authority recommended avoiding development in the northern 900 metres of the precinct.
It also recommended a fossil heritage survey and management plan to avoid, salvage or adequately record any fossils found before they were disturbed.
Mr Marmion said that during appeals, information provided suggested the tracksites could extend along the entire coastline and that port construction could cause considerable damage to tracks.
In upholding the EPA’s findings, Dr Roy Green suggested more measures to protect and preserve tracksites outside and to the north of the precinct. No tracksites were found in the area earmarked for a port, Mr Marmion said.
However, he acknowledged some tracksites may only be discovered during port construction and the proponent would be “required to avoid them if possible” if that was the case.
“If avoidance is not possible, then they must be salvaged or appropriately and adequately recorded before they are disturbed - (which) may include the removal of fossils,” he said.
The length of coastline affected could not be determined until detailed designs were finished, he said.
Dr Salisbury said the only real difference now was that the northernmost jetty had been realigned slightly to avoid crossing an area with lots of dinosaur tracks.
He said the EPA had acknowledged that construction of the port, shipping channel, breakwaters, jetties and other marine infrastructure would affect coastal processes and lead to sedimentary change, affecting beaches up to 3km north of the harbour (including the area that is meant to be protected) and potentially as far as 7km south.
Both areas contained highly significant tracksites, Dr Salisbury said, but there appeared to be no recommendations to counteract the effects.
Removing any prints from the nationally heritage listed site would also greatly diminish the heritage value of the entire area, he said.
“It is not just footprints that are preserved, but rather an entire Early Cretaceous landscape that is literally frozen in time,” he said.
Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said the State had clearly washed its hands of the issue.“If the West Australian government and Woodside will allow our national heritage to be destroyed then the only line of defence is obviously the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke,” he said.
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