Spotlight on Westport – far from sound planning in Cockburn Sound

Following the State Government’s announcement on the design and location for its Westport container port planned to be built in Kwinana in 2032, Recfishwest Operations Manager Leyland Campbell takes a closer look at the implications for Cockburn Sound.

In August 2020, the WA Labor Government endorsed a land-backed port adjacent to Anketell Road as the preferred location for a new container port in Cockburn Sound. The Government even allocated $400 million in the 2020/21 budget for strategic land acquisition and upgrades to Thomas and Anketell Roads as part of this new port.

Part of the reason Kwinana was recommended as the preferred port location was because dredging costs and marine environmental impacts were estimated to be lower than most other options. This was partly based on expert advice made to Westport that the location did not need to include a breakwater which can have serious environmental consequences.

Just look at the million abalone that have been killed and the 12.5 ha of pristine nearshore reef habitat that had been destroyed thanks to the new breakwater at the new Ocean Reef Marina. The ability to avoid a breakwater was a definite bonus of the preferred port option, however there were certainly several other environmental concerns that remained unanswered.

An artist’s impression of what the new port will look like including a 2km-long breakwater that was supposedly not going to be part of the plans.

Show us the science

To address these concerns and inform a preferred design the Government invested $13.5 million into a marine science program in Cockburn Sound. The $13.5 million investment in understanding the Cockburn Sound environment was designed to inform a sustainable design, ensure a robust environmental impact assessment process, and improve long-term management of the area. Fast forward a few years and not a single final report on any of the projects in the science program is publicly available, which begs the question as to how these projects have informed the Government’s announcement.

Despite earlier advice to the contrary, the port design announced today includes a 2km-long breakwater, again bringing into question whether Cockburn Sound is indeed the best place for a new port. However, given the Government’s investments to date they are unlikely to consider any other option or perhaps they never intended for the port to be built anywhere else.

In choosing a land -backed port adjacent to Anketell Road, the Government only realistically had a few design options. A northern option would impact on the desalination plant and Synergy, while a southern option would impact on BP and the bulk terminal. The southern option would cost more but would have less environmental impact and would not impact on the community’s drinking water supply or the Kwinana “big battery” that the Government recently spent more than half a billion dollars on. So all up, it was hardly a tough choice to make for the Government.

The questions that Westport still must answer

The upside of today’s announcement is that with a preferred design announced there is nothing stopping the government from finally answering some long-standing questions about the impact of the new port.

  • What impact will the dredging have on seagrass meadows?
  • What impact will the port have on fish stocks?
  • What impact will the port have on fishing experiences?
  • What impact will the port have on access and fishing amenity?
  • What impact will the port have on safety?
  • How will these impacts be avoided, minimised, mitigated or offset?

It is time the Government answered these long-standing questions and makes the advice on which it made its decision publicly available so the community can understand the decision-making process. It is also time the Government finally offset the impact of the Ocean Reef Marina because if they can’t be trusted to build a marina in the northern suburbs how can the community have any faith they are able to construct an international container port in an area as sensitive and special as Cockburn Sound?

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