Pulp mill permits deadline looms

THE Environment Protection Authority advised the state government 10 months ago that permits for the Bell Bay pulp mill would lapse on Tuesday if Gunns had not "substantially commenced" the $2.3 billion project by then.

Briefing notes for an October meeting between the EPA and Department of Premier and Cabinet states: "Legal advice may need to be sought by the government if any doubt exists about the status of the permit at that time. There is some risk that a third party may choose to test the expiry clause in a court of law."

Anti-pulp mill activists have indicated this week that they will challenge the clause in court.

Premier Lara Giddings is insisting that the permit issue is a matter for the EPA and the courts, not the government.

"The question of whether substantial commencement has been achieved is now one for the relevant agencies and authorities responsible for the pulp mill permit. Ultimately, it may have to be decided in the courts," she said.

The briefing notes, which were supplied under Right to Information laws and released by the Liberal Party yesterday, state that Gunns was in a position to start bulk earthworks at the mill site. This is yet to occur.

The document also states that the EPA would require additional staff if the major project went ahead, and that the director had approved an extension or suspension of time frames for 24 requirements of the permit so far.

"The majority of these extensions and suspensions were applied for by Gunns as a direct result of Gunns' ongoing difficulties in securing finance for the project," the document states.

EPA director Alex Schaap was not available to comment yesterday afternoon.

A Gunns spokesman has declined to comment on whether the company has met the requirements of its permits.

Another document released under the RTI laws shows former EPA director Warren Jones sought legal advice in October 2009 because the works done by Gunns at the time did not represent the substantial start required.

In the letter to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Mr Jones writes that the government needs to resolve the status of the permits through the courts or amend the act in Parliament.

Ms Giddings said yesterday that the government had acted at the time by amending the Pulp Mill Assessment Act to allow a two-year extension.

She said the Liberal Party was attempting to mislead Tasmanians by suggesting it had failed to act on legal advice at the time.

[LOGOa945] HAVE YOUR SAY:

Has Gunns made a "substantial commencement"?

examiner.com.au

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