Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Clayton “regulator” endangers workers as well as ecosystem

The so-called “regulator” over the Finniss River at Clayton should have been finished a fortnight ago.

However, unexpected problems with its construction have delayed completion and placed project workers in danger.

In the first place, workers are being made to start early and finish late without any more lighting than that supplied by truck headlights.

(Above, dusk at Clayton and only headlights provide any lighting out on the "regulator").

Given that they are driving heavy trucks on a soft-walled structure this should require an on-site OHSW presence even in broad daylight.

But it is more complicated than that.

They are not dumping sand (taken by the private contractors from excavations for the nearby Hindmarsh Island marina) onto a stable base of bedrock, Instead, they are dumping it on a soft muddy base that cannot take the weight of the “regulator”.

On 19 and 20 July, sections of the end of the “regulator” collapsed. On another occasion, a truck slid off the edge and had to be “rescued” by heavy equipment.

The throwing of mud by a resident at a government spokesperson during a public “consultation”, and the arrest a couple of days ago of two women who prevented work on the “regulator” by standing at its end with a banner, has brought some much-needed media attention to the issue.

ABC radio broadcast from the site this morning and was there, just before 10am, to witness another collapse at the end of the “regulator”.

Broadcaster Matthew Abraham was talking when he suddenly said “Now there’s a hole at the end of it. The dirt has just disappeared!”

The person whom he had been interviewing described it as “an incredibly dangerous place…What if trucks had been driving across the hole when it sank?”

The “regulator” was promoted by the SA government as a temporary measure to prevent further exposure of soils along the Finniss River and Currency Creek to the atmosphere. The exposure creates acid sulphates in the soil.

Government sources claim the “regulator” is a response to an acid sulphate “emergency”, but regular monitoring of the two river systems has only shown the existence of local “hot spots” that can be dealt with by bioremediation and lime release.

With good rains throughout July and water flowing past the incomplete “regulator” into Lake Alexandrina, a consensus is emerging that there is no “emergency” and that work on the regulator should stop.

This is certainly the view of the Ngarrindjeri, the traditional owners and custodians of the Lower Lakes and Coorong. A statement by the Ngarrindjeri on July 29 reads:


(Tom Trevorrow, left and Major Sumner, right, representing the Ngarrindjeri people at the opening of the Clayton Fresh Water Embassy in June).

The Ngarrindjeri people of the Lower Murray River and Coorong have told the State Government that the construction of regulators will seriously damage Aboriginal sites. Ngarrindjeri has informed the Government that it considers there has not been adequate justification for the construction of the regulators. The State Government has acknowledged the pain and loss to Ngarrindjeri, but determined to proceed regardless. Ngarrindjeri has been placed in a position where it must bear witness to the damage, disturbance and interference to its culture. The State Government, by proceeding with this work, is responsible for its own actions in the destruction of the area.

In recent times there have been important and significant rains in the area. The water the partly constructed Clayton regulator was designed to block has been released into Lake Alexandrina. In light of this, the State Government should review its plan and to this end immediately stop the construction of the regulators. There is no longer, if they ever was, any environmental advantage to the Goolwa Channel, the Currency Creek or the Finniss River of the construction of these regulators.

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