Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pulp Mill Submission: More old documents, still relevant

Submission re Referral Notice Reference No. 2007/3385 by

George Smiley, 249 Upper Natone Rd. Natone, Tas. 7321

I am writing in response to the invitation for public comment on the referral of Gunns ‘proposed Bell Bay Pulp Mill project as a potential controlled action under the EPBC Act.

First I would like to express my disgust at the way this whole thing is shaping up as follows: more surreal and disgusting by the week.

The closing down of the RPDC inquiry which had the confidence off the public. The present process does not have any credibility and it seems that is of no concern to the Lennon Labour government and the proponents who are apparently hell bent on pushing this thing through. 
  1. From the beginning which I would take to be the frivolous harassment through the courts of the 20 environmentalists with the tacit approval of state and national governments and the de facto warning to anyone who might stick their heads up – or perhaps the beginning was the Edmund Raus affair or the Wesley Vale mill fiasco - this company has had an unseemly relationship with successive Tasmanian governments more in tradition of business/government relationships in so many third world kleptocracies. And at every turn the government here is picking up the bill, which smacks of desperation. Even in the third world there is some sophistication - it’s the proponents there who buy influence.
  2. Why they bother with the appearance of any formalities at all is a mystery, in the short time frame allotted for public submissions it is hardly possible to go through the many thousands of pages of material that would be required to make considered comments on chemistry and associated ecological issues.
  3. I have spoken with some ex- employees of North/Gunns and even they are flummoxed at the choice of Bell Bay. Between water supply, transport, and environmental problems such as air quality in the Tamar Valley they believe there are grounds to suppose the whole thing was meant from the beginning to fall over, after they wrest further concessions on timber price/supply/conditions from Forestry Tasmania and the state government.
  4. The failure of the federal government to rein in tax rorts for the timber plantation industry by which Gunns is able to gain ownership or control of vast areas of private land, subsidized by the taxpayers to the detriment of neighboring properties –threat of weeds and vermin; loss of infrastructure, rateability, ground water, and many other amenities that once existed in our farming communities.

The Pulp Mill project as a Potential Controlled Action

A cursory look at the vast tonnages of chemical effluent, much of it toxic into the shallow and slowly circulating Bass Strait and again hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wood wastes and pulp mill process byproducts to be burnt into the long –suffering, smoky and inverted Tamar Valley atmosphere make the Gunns about face on environmental impacts on the referral beyond belief.

Long term supply of pulpwood must also have a profound effect on the forest environment, with pressure to replant fast growing monocultures and shorten rotation sequences from sawlog to pulpwood production. This means regeneration burns with associated impacts on wildlife and air quality will happen about four times more often than on land managed for sawlog production.

Shorter rotations must also have an impact on the absolute sustainability of the industry in the long term, and I am referring to soil degradation. The simultaneous ignition of fallen material over a whole coup instead of a quickly passing fire front through standing timber as in a wildfire makes a huge difference to the nature of the soils. After a wildfire soils and seedbeds are preserved and quickly regenerate. In the regeneration burn however the vast amount of combustion pulls air inwards from all directions and the very substance of the soil is often consumed into a mushroom cloud, leaving little but a sterilized subsoil. The industry finds this advantageous as they can replant with desirable strains which will have no competition. But when the humus is destroyed, vast quantities of CO2 over and above heads and branches are liberated and subsequent exaggerated run-off and leaching takes even more of the fertility away.

This happens naturally at a reduced rate – many areas of Tasmania are so poor nothing grows but button grass and/or very slow growing trees like celery pine in higher rainfall areas. Some of it is regeneration failure, some a result of naturally started blazes as well as aboriginal firestick farming.

When I was salvaging timber in the Florentine valley I saw whole coups of young celery pine being flattened for ‘regeneration’ into eucalypt forest.

Celery is a wonderful timber but grows so slowly no-one waits for sawlogs and it is too dense to be digested as woodchips so it is only burnt. No-one ever seemed to wonder why eucalypts weren’t on those sites already.

The Dubious Economics of a Pulp Mill

In rational economic terms the desperate efforts of the state government to gain a trophy development for their score card may greatly inconvenience us in the long run. Gunns has determined the cost structure of this mill will be in the lowest decile in international terms. This is a rational aim in terms of the huge risks inherent in such a project, but implies they will want the same advantages or better than other companies overseas enjoy, such as

  1. Royalties locked in under $3 per tonne for native forest which implies a 25 million dollar or more per annum hit to state forestry revenue.
  2. Continuing low rates and wages to contractors and employees. Their contractors have always been squeezed unto marginality and this is evidenced by regular mortgagee auctions in the industry.
  3. As energy prices increase, cellulose will be an important feedstock for our transportation system, transformed into methanol which is a fuel in itself and also essential for biodiesel production. Other potential users will also be locked out.
  4. Ongoing infrastructure development and maintenance - water supply, road and rail will certainly be financed by the public.
  5. Finally Gunns may want loans or government guarantees which must impact on the state’s ability to deliver healthcare, schools, and other essential services.


Finally may I invite you to relax and enjoy a lighter moment – visit my website at

which is completely non-profit for a condensed pictorial version of the whole debate, and please help contribute to free speech on our sad little island.

George Smiley

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