THE $7 million purchase of Springvale Station at Lakeland last year by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to prevent sediment runoff onto the Great Barrier Reef derives from incorrect data and is a waste of a viable, developed grazing property.
Adjoining property owner and former Cook Shire mayor Graham Elmes said Lakefield National Park, not Springvale, according to government data was responsible for 86 per cent of sediment runoff into Princes Charlotte Bay.
A spokesman for EHS Minister Stephen Miles said Springvale “reportedly was responsible for up to 40pc of gully-derived sediment in the Normanby catchment, which is a significant upper catchment draining onto the northern Great Barrier Reef.
“The Queensland Government aims to manage and conserve Springvale’s significant biophysical values, and contribute to improved water quality in the Normanby River catchment by reducing sediment runoff from the property.”
In late March Mr Elmes met with EHP staff at Lakeland where he pointed out, according to a report from the Cape York Local Marine Park Authority, that 86pc of tested sediment levels found on the bed of Princes Charlotte Bay originated from the Bizant River system that runs through the destocked, 5370sq km Lakefield National Park and not from the Normanby River catchment.
He said gravel pits and 40km of gravel road running through the Kalpowar section of the national park were major sources of soil sediment runoff.
“After every wet season the national parks have to re-sheet their gravel roads with thousands of tonnes of gravel extracted from their own open gravel pits on the park,” Mr Elmes said. “Where do they think the runoff from the pits and all this gravel from the roads ends up after floods? The report says the Marrett River that runs through Kalpowar puts 19pc and the North Kennedy 21pc into the Bizant River that contributes another 46pc of sediment that empties into Princes Charlotte Bay.”
The report states runoff from Springvale Station and the 11 other cattle properties in the (Normanby) catchment above the coastal plains represents only 9pc of the total sediment found on the bed of Princes Charlotte Bay.
“This nine percent of runoff is spread across 11 former or existing cattle properties including Springvale in the Normanby catchment,” Mr Elmes said. “If it is averaged across all 11 places then Springvale’s runoff contribution is less than 1pc.”
Section 1.3.6 of the report says: ‘…riverine delivered sediments from the upper catchment (i.e. sourced from above the coastal plain) only represent about 9pc of the sediment present on the bed of Princes Charlotte Bay.’ It goes on to say: ‘It is clear that a great deal more research is required to unravel the interaction with sediment delivered to the near shore zone in Princes Charlotte Bay by tidal currents, and sediment delivered to the reef in flood plumes…’
The spokesman said the former cattle station would be destocked of cattle by October 31, 2017, when it would be declared a Nature Refuge under the Nature Conservation Act.
“The longer-term intent is to dedicate the property as a higher class of protected area as a conservation park. This process will be subject to a negotiated native title outcome through the Cape York Tenure Resolution Program,” he said. “Implementation of a program of works to manage and reduce erosion on the property will commence in 2017.
“Research does indicate that sediment flowing into Princess Charlotte Bay comes from a range of sources including Lakefield National Park, which is a natural source. We know feral animals can cause soil erosion, which is why the Queensland Government has feral animal control programs in place in national parks including Lakefield. These activities aim to reduce the impacts of hard hoofed pests, particularly cattle and pigs that adversely impact on watercourses, and subsequently sediment erosion.”
Mr Elmes said: “The government’s own data shows they have wasted a lot of money buying this property. We agreed they could turn it into a nature reserve, which allows cattle grazing but we do not want another huge area of wasteland which will be an enormous problem to manage.
“It has over 4000 acres (1600ha) of cultivation paddocks and large dams suitable for irrigation and I don’t know where the so-called biophysical values are on the property.
“We agreed they could turn it into a nature reserve which allows cattle grazing but we do not want another huge area of wasteland which will be an enormous problem to manage.
“We will see the shire lose more of its small rate base and lose 4000 cattle from the local economy.
“When I showed staff at the meeting these are sediment figures from their own data, there was stunned silence.”
The 2013 study by the Cape York Local Marine Park Authority titled ‘An Empirically-based Sediment Budget for the Normanby Basin’ was funded by the Federal Government as a part of Caring for Our Country Reef Rescue Initiative.
- Will Bensted is a Cairns based rural writer and researcher.