Secret letters reveal pulp mill fears
The plan by timber giant Gunns to build a massive pulp mill in Tasmania’s north is the biggest private investment in the island’s history. It has captured attention across the country, particularly during the last election.
But for years some residents of the Tamar Valley have claimed that the mill would leave foul odours and would adversely affect the region’s wine and tourism industries.
Last night the ABC’s 7.30 Report revealed new documents that have been secret for four years.
They reveal that Tasmania’s peak planning body, the Resource, Planning and Development Commission (RPDC), shared those concerns and was worried emissions from the mill could affect the quality of life for the people living nearby.
In a letter dated July 2005, the then-head of the RPDC, Julian Green, wrote to Gunns chief John Gay to raise concerns about fugitive emissions.
“These potential emission points number some several hundred,” he said.
“Although each is usually quite small in volume, their effect in aggregate has proven in all kraft [process] pulp mills constructed to date – of which the commission is aware – to cause significant nuisance and diminution in quality of life for people living in the mill area on many days of the year.”
Mr Green declined to speak with the ABC, but his fellow RPDC member Warwick Raverty said the odours from pulp mills are amongst the most objectionable known to science.
He said that Mr Green experienced them first-hand 10 months after he had written his letter, during a trip to view pulp mills in Sweden.
“When we got out of the minibus in the car park, Julian Green very quickly became distressed – he couldn’t breathe,” Mr Green said.
“I found the odour intensely objectionable and within a matter of minutes, Julian Green was gasping and saying ‘For God’s sake, get me out of here.””
The 2005 letter from Mr Green went on to say that where the pulp mill is being constructed is a particularly sensitive area.
“Gunns’ proposal to site the mill in the Tamar Estuary, where air is frequently stagnant and covered by a thermal inversion layer, and within the Tamar Valley air shed – itself subject to widespread concerns over levels of aerial pollutants from other sources – means that the commission must be proactive and take particular interest in this aspect of the proposal,” the letter said.
It finished with a sternly-worded rebuke:
“I reiterate that the commission has not had even a vestige of an indication from Gunns, or its consultants that this potential problem – that has been a major source of community nuisance and concern in the two other kraft mills in Australia – firstly exists, or secondly and more importantly, about how it is to be addressed,” it said.
Gunns defends mills
For its part, Gunns insists it has addressed all the issues raised by the RPCD.
In another letter obtained by the ABC, Gunns said it would address the emissions issue in its draft integrated impact statement.
And in a statement to the 7:30 Report, Gunns insisted it had since addressed the issue many times.
The statement reads: “Fugitive emissions will not occur from the Bell Bay Pulp Mill. Gunns has given extensive evidence, including expert witness statements from some of the world’s leading pulp scientists, as part of the IIS process.”
“We identified emissions as a concern at the start of the proposal and are installing two extra burners at significant cost to help prevent odours.
“Newer pulp mill technology has removed the risk of odours from fugitive emissions.”
However Mr Raverty and other mill opponents insist the issues weren’t properly addressed during the fast-track assessment after Gunns withdrew from the RPDC process this morning.
That’s disputed by Barry Chipman from Timber Communities Australia.
This morning local residents in Tamar were calling in to ABC local radio to voice their concerns.
A Gunns spokesman also called in to say the story was old news.
Earlier this week, the company announced it had progressed negotiations for a joint venture partner.
Mill supporters have been hoping construction on the mill will start in weeks or even months.