Department keeps Gunns legal advice under wraps
Tasmania’s Environment Department is refusing to release Crown advice into why it is able to assess Gunns’ new dam permit applications for its Tamar Valley pulp mill.
Spokesman, Wes Ford, says the legal advice is privileged and will not be released to the public.
The Greens have legal advice stating no extensions to the permits are possible.
The Greens MP, Kim Booth, says Tasmanians should be able to see the Department’s legal reasoning.
“Clearly DPIPWE are running for cover,” he said.
“If the advice was unambiguous they would simply not only release the advice but they’d also release the question they’d asked. Government should insist that DPIPWE release the advice so that everyone can see exactly what the situation is on that site.”
Meanwhile, Gunns is questioning the legitimacy of leaked internal emails that suggest it tried to sanitise information about its pulp mill in the planning stages.
The 13 emails published on the Tasmanian Times news website yesterday apparently give a behind-the-scenes look at the company’s framing of the pulp mill’s impact statement in 2005 and 2006.
In one, there is an order for the removal of a table showing dioxin concentrations at locations around Georgetown, saying its inclusion could “bring down two governments and the company”.
A Gunns spokesman says all of the issues raised in the emails are addressed in the mill’s integrated impact statement.
• `Good reasons’ for pulp mill choice
BY ALISON ANDREWS CHIEF REPORTER
14 Sep, 2011 12:00 AM
FORMER Gunns pulp mill project general manager Les Baker says Hampshire was rejected early as the site for the proposed mill for good reasons.
Mr Baker, speaking publicly yesterday for the first time since he resigned from Gunns last year, dismissed new comments on the site choice.
Mr Baker said that Bell Bay had been Gunns’ preferred location for its proposed $2.3 billion pulp mill since detailed research had been undertaken by consultants and the company more than four years ago.
“There were a number of strong reasons, including that Bell Bay was the centre for wood catchment,” Mr Baker said.
“The North-West didn’t have anywhere near the amount of wood required, which meant that you would have to take from the North-East wood catchment.
“That would have meant a significant environmental impact and cost impact because of the rail or road transport.”
Mr Baker confirmed that a batch of emailed memos leaked to online forum Tasmanian Times this week had been written and received by him when he worked for Gunns on the pulp mill project.
But he dismissed the emails that talked about the choice of sites and air modelling and air emissions issues as “ancient history”.
“Some of them date back to 2006 when only fairly preliminary investigations were going on,” Mr Baker said.
He said that he had not been contacted to inform him that the leaked memos had been made public or to comment on them.
“But it doesn’t worry me - they are so old that they were outdated long ago,” he said.
Other reasons why Bell Bay became the site of choice were environmental, Mr Baker said.
“There was the question at Hampshire of where you would put the ocean outface at Burnie - it’s a very different proposition,” he said. “And Hampshire is on the edge of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park.
“The conservationists would have gone troppo about that - you would have been able to see the stacks from the national park.”
Mr Baker worked at Burnie in senior management positions at Associated Pulp and Paper Mills for 15 years before joining Gunns.
• Nick Clark, Mercury: Emails reveal mill concerns
AN international public relations firm advising Gunns Limited had concerns about the selection of Bell Bay for the then $1 billion pulp mill, leaked emails allegedly written in 2006 show.
The emails reveal that PR firm Gavin Anderson believed the site selection process was significantly deficient.
Gunns announced its intention to build a pulp mill at Bell Bay rather than the North-West site of Hampshire, near Burnie, in February 2005.
It has suffered from a massive campaign by opponents, largely based around the siting in the Tamar Valley, which contributed to the ANZ Bank withdrawing support and Gunns subsequently having difficulty finding a joint venture partner and financier.
Former Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) member Warwick Raverty, told the Tasmanian Times website, which published the emails, that he believed they were genuine.
One email to then Bell Bay pulp mill project manager Les Baker from Gavin Anderson said the site selection documentation was already significantly deficient “given that a detailed assessment did not take place”.
“If we are seen to be pushing flimsy arguments I believe there is a real risk you could be asked to better justify the choice of sites (ie undertake a detailed site selection process),” the email said.
“We only have some flora and fauna memos, a heritage memo and the very brief desktop report conducted by JP (Jaako Poyry) to substantiate the claim that Bell Bay is the preferred site.”
The email to Mr Baker said that the process would have no credibility if “we start relying on anecdotal information and guesswork”.
“If the opponents make ground because we recognise that on the environmental criteria Hampshire is the preferred site they will make even more ground if they tear the assessment to shreds,” Gavin Anderson said.
In several emails Mr Baker argues with an unknown correspondent who believed Burnie to be a better site from a marine perspective. In one email he expresses alarm about a dioxin revelation.
Mr Baker said last night the emails were ancient history and one of thousands written in the very early stages of the project.
Gunns spokesman Matt Horan said the emails had been tabled in Parliament six months ago.
“There is no way to establish their veracity,” he said.
He said that the information in the emails had been superseded by the company’s integrated impact statement