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The decision has been made to proceed with the eastern route for the Bruce Highway between Federal and Traveston Road, regardless of whether or not the dam project gains federal approval. The public's preferred route in the case of the dam project not being approved was along the existing alignment, but a review undertaken by main roads had concluded that the eastern route is their preferred route in any case.

Although the decision hasn't been publicly announced by the Queensland State Government (I suspect that the announcement is being politically delayed to coincide with the upcoming State election announcement and the federal Labor economic incentives package which may fund that section of the highay upgrade), the necessary administrative steps were put in place this week.

On 29th January QWI applied to the federal government for a variation to the Traveston Crossing dam project to excise the eastern Bruce Highway route from the dam project.  (See the letter  attached).  This was granted by the Federal Government on 10th Feb (see attached approval notice).  Following contact from the SaveTheMaryRiver Coordinating Group on 13th Feb, DEWHA published the details of this process on the EPBC website.  

The extraordinary dimension to this process is that neither the project variation request or the approval decision define the geographical boundaries of either project.  This is concerning for land holders in the area: how do they know if they  are regarded as part of the dam project, (in which case Anna Bligh has promised no compulsory land acquisition without full federal approval of the project), or if they are part of the highway project, for which no such undertaking has been given, and for which the assessment and approval process is very unclear.

Also, exactly what land area, economic and social impact is now to being assessed by the federal minister under the  EPBC Act?  How much environmental impact is being excised from the current assessment and being assigned to another project for which the assessment process is still undefined?  The impacts will still occur, they just may be accounted for differently.

When SaveTheMaryRiver put these questions to the Coordinator-Generals office on Friday 13th Feb, the answer was that they could not give us a clear boundary between the two projects, and that individual landholders should contact QWI (the dam proponent) to find out whether they were part of the dam project or the highway project.  This seems to give a discretionary advantage to QWI in their negotiations with landholders for land acquisition.

It is important to put this in the context that on 12th February, the State Government ammended the Acquisition of Land Act to 'streamline' the process of land acquistion for infrastructure projects, and in December 2008 put in place a completely new set of regulations and policies for the operation of the Planning and Environment Court for the same stated purpose.  I think that anyone who owns freehold land which stands in the way of the state's public/private partnership infrastructure agenda has a right to be 'alert and alarmed'  of the actions of the State Government and it's big construction industry mates in 2009.

Another example of the sort of  'open and transparent' governance that Queenslanders have suffered under for the last decade.  When did they intend to let people know?

Steve Burgess


Post Script:  Comment from Minister for Main Roads