Garrett rejects Gunns environmental reports

The future of the controversial mill planned for Tasmania’s Tamar Valley hangs in the balance, with Gunns struggling to raise sufficient finance and to meet conditions on federal approval.

Under a process established by the Howard government, Gunns must submit and have approved a 16-module environmental impact management plan before construction can begin.

Gunns yesterday submitted the last of the 16 modules to Mr Garrett’s department. However, nine of these have been sent back to Gunns in recent days as deficient and requiring more work.

Mr Garrett said only four modules had been approved and it was “unlikely” Gunns would meet the October 4 deadline, meaning it would need to justify an extension to keep the project alive.

Gunns refused to comment on whether it would seek an extension, but spokeswoman Sue Cato said the company was working with Mr Garrett’s department.

Gunns is yet to complete key hydrodynamic modelling to show how wind and waves will disperse 64,000 tonnes of treated effluent to be released daily from the mill into Bass Strait.

Under the federal approval process, the mill will not be allowed to operate until this modelling has been done to the satisfaction of the minister.

Construction cannot begin until the scope of this modelling, currently being assessed by a federal government independent expert group, is approved by Mr Garrett.

Mr Garrett said Gunns may need to modify the mill if this modelling showed the effluent posed an unacceptable risk to marine life.

Gunns has in the past discussed the project with Swedish firm Sodra, which told The Weekend Australian it would be interested in considering a joint venture.

Finnish firms Stora Enso and M-real have also been touted as potential partners, although M-real has assured The Wilderness Society it has no such plans.

It is understood high environmental standards of Scandinavian companies may force Gunns to drop plans to use native forests as the dominant feed stock for the mill in its first five to 10 years.