18 September 2009
Minister sends salt farm plan back for review
The massive salt mine project threatening the unique ecosystem
of the Exmouth Gulf has been given yet another lifeline by the
State Government, despite strong recommendations against the project
by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
Environment Minister Donna Faragher has sent the Yannarie Solar
Salt plan back to the EPA for reassessment following the proponent's
appeal against the decision.
At a time when we had hoped for decisive action, we have instead
been delivered with a ruling that the 4.2 million tone-a-year
salt farm on the east coast of Exmouth Gulf warranted "further
assessment". In making this ruling, the Minister cited the
proponent's claim of new information the EPA had not taken account
in its July 2008 report.
In its July 2008 report, the EPA concluded the project was "fundamentally
in the wrong place".
"The EPA considers that it is environmentally unacceptable
to locate a 17,765 hectare salt field within a wetland of national
importance," the report said.
Despite such clear recommendation, the Minister appears to have
backed out of making a decision, instead referring the project
back to the EPA for yet another review.
The proposed salt mine's 180 square kilometres of solar ponds
and rock wall would extensively alter the natural "flood-out"
drainage pattern and artificially redirect the flow of sediment
The barrier could effectively starve the Gulf ecosystem of its
vital natural resources.
EPA findings 'reasonable'
The Appeals Convenor, assessing challenges to the EPA’s
recommendation, concluded the high biodiversity and wetlands value
of the area meant the EPA finding on the unsustainability of the
proposed location was reasonable.
And he rejected the proponent's view there was no potential conflict
between the salt mine and conservation values.
However, the Appeals Convenor noted there were some uncertainties
about the effects of the proposal on nutrient sources and effluent
seepage. He said in his report that the Minister could either
dismiss the appeal or remit it for "fresh assessment"
on the understanding that this did not imply the project could
be made acceptable.
The Yannarie Solar Salt project would pump sea water from Exmouth
Gulf into a series of concentrator ponds covering salt flats near
The salt mine proposal is unprecedented in scale for Western
Australia, involving the construction of a five metre high wall
for 35 kilometres, blocking the mangrove and creek systems of
the eastern fringe of Exmouth Gulf, interrupting tidal and rainfall
run-off that is critical to the survival of this ecosystem.
This footprint represents 19% of the saltflat area adjacent to
the 80 kilometre length of the pristine mangrove and algal mat-fringed
The project will also involve the dredging of a shipping channel
through a primary prawn nursery area and storage of a toxic by-product,
bitterns, in an area susceptible to cyclones with no firm long-term
plan for their disposal or management.
The combined advice of the relevant Government agencies, including
Fisheries WA and the EPA, has warned against the salt project
in the strongest terms because of the potential long-term damage
to the marine environment. The Department of Industry and Resources,
Tourism WA, Department of Planning and infrastructure, the Professor
of Fisheries Science at Murdoch University, Recfishwest and the
WA Fishing Industry Council have also warned against it.
Earlier this year, the original project proponent Straits Resources
sold 60 percent of its interests in Straits Bulk and Industrial,
including the salt proposal, to Thai company PTT International.
PTT is the parent company of PTT Exploration and Production Public
Company Limited, the oil and gas international whose rig is responsible
for the massive oil spill in the Timor Sea about 250 km off the
In the face of all the expert advice about the danger of this
massive salt mine proposal to Western Australia’s precious
Exmouth Gulf ecosystem, Halt the Salt is concerned the Minister
for the Environment appears to have chosen to give the proponent
yet another chance. How many opportunities is this appalling proposal
going to get?
Halt the Salt hopes that a final decision does not take another
18 months to eventuate - and that when it is finally made, that
it reflects all the scientific evidence to date and rejects this
proposal once and for all.
We will keep you informed of further developments as they
occur. We urge you to find out more about the environmental impacts
of the proposed project by visiting www.haltthesalt.org.au and
help us protect this area for current and future generations to
If you have not already made a submission, please