In two days the permit for the controversial Tamar Valley pulp mill will expire, more than fourteen years after failed timber company Gunns first revealed its plans.
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust has confirmed it is investigating its legal options to now have the permit deemed invalid.
The trust initiated proceedings in the Supreme Court in October 2011 on the basis that a permit condition to have the project substantially underway had been breached.
But in February 2014 the state government passed the Pulp Mill Assessment Amendment Bill, extending the permit conditions until 2017.
This effectively quashed any legal challenge, while allowing Gunns’ receivers Kordamentha the opportunity to sell the assets and a buyer the time to begin work on a pulp mill.
“After August 30 we return to the situation that existed prior to the February 2014 amendment legislation,” conservation trust director Peter McGlone said.
“But the amendment act does not state how ‘substantial commenced’ is determined and nor does the original permit.
“This can only be determined by another act of parliament ... or by the Tasmanian Supreme Court, the EPA has no authority.”
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Mr McGlone said until the question regarding substantial commencement had been answered, the permit remained valid, despite reaching its expiry date.
Kordamentha spokesman Mike Smith said the receivers were still working towards selling the assets.
HISTORY OF THE PULP MILL
When the permit was extended to August 30, 2017 vocal pulp mill opponent and TV personality Peter Cundall said the approval process was “the most colossal and cynical swindle” in Tasmania’s history.
“What we are fighting against is betrayal by the very people paid to represent us,” he said at an anti-mill protest in 2014.
Opposition to the proposed pulp mill began almost as soon as Gunns announced its interest in the project in June 2003.
By October 2004 the state government had released pulp mill guides and a $1 million feasibility study was announced by Gunns.
The following February Bell Bay was nominated as the preferred site for the pulp mill.
In July 2006, Gunns released its draft Integrated Impact Statement, saying its pulp mill would not pollute or use old growth forest.
In early 2007 Gunns withdrew from the Resource Planning and Development Commission approval process on the grounds that it was taking to long.
By March parliament had passed an alternate pulp mill assessment bill.
More than 10,000 people attended an anti-pulp mill rally in Launceston in June 2007.
A legal challenge by a conservation group failed in federal court in August, the same month the state government passed permits and conditions for the operation of the pulp mill.
Federal Environment Minister at the time Malcolm Turnbull and chief scientist Jim Peacock announced the mill’s approval in October 2007.
By February permits were issued by both the state and federal governments for site works to begin.
In January 2009 the federal government signed off on all but three of the operating modules for the pulp mill but it was challenged by Lawyers for Forests.
The appeal in the federal court was lost in September.
In November 2009 the state government moved to extend the pulp mill permit until August 2011.
It took until March 2011 for federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to sign off on the pulp mill’s final operating permit.
A year later, March 2012, trading of Gunns shares was suspended while the company attempted to raise capital for the project.
By September of that year Gunns was forced into administration, owing a syndicate of banks $500 million.
Gunns receivers Kordamentha called for expressions of interest in the pulp mills assets in November 2013 and, while there were six offered, there was no sale.
In January 2014 then-premier Lara Giddings recalled parliament to extend the pulp mill permit for another three years, until 2017.