The 4350water Blog highlights some of the issues relating to proposals for potable reuse in Toowoomba and South East Qld. 4350water blog looks at related political issues as well.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Anna Bligh's $1.2b Gold Coast desalination plant a dud ...

Courier Mail:

$1.2b Gold Coast desalination plant a dud

2 July 2009

The showpiece of the State Government's $9 billion water grid, the Gold Coast desalination plant, is a $1.2 billion lemon.

Rusting pipework, cracking concrete, faulty valves and leaching of contaminants from a rubbish dump on which the plant was built are among several serious defects revealed in a report to be given to the Government today.

The Government is refusing to accept ownership of the Tugun facility and has threatened legal action against contractors if the faults are not fixed.

This is after a Freedom of Information application by The Courier-Mail into problems that have plagued the plant since its official opening in November, when it failed to come on line as scheduled.

It has been shut down for weeks at a time for what was claimed to be routine maintenance and is still operating at one-third capacity.

The plant was to have been pumping 125 megalitres of water a day into the southeast Queensland water grid by January, but that did not happen until March, and then only briefly.

In April, the plant, which recently won an international desalination award, was shut down for almost six weeks. Experts have been crawling through pipes to pinpoint problems that the Government admits might not be fixed for months.

More problems have emerged since January, when then infrastructure minister Paul Lucas announced "several issues" needed to be addressed before the Government would accept handover of the plant. Those issues included 45 pipe couplings that were found to be corroding after only a couple of months of stop-start operation. The joiners, which were meant to last 25 years, had to be replaced.

Yesterday, Infrastructure Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said independent experts called in by the Government had found further "serious" faults that threatened the plant's long-term future.

These included concrete cracking in the inlet shaft that takes water from the ocean via a 1.2km pipeline.

Mr Hinchliffe said the cracks were allowing groundwater, and possible contaminants from the Tugun rubbish dump on which the plant was built, to leach into the 70m-deep shaft.

As well, about 400m of stainless steel pipes would have to be replaced after they were found to be not up to specification. Valves at the plant were also substandard and had to be replaced.

"We have literally had men crawling through pipes and pulling things apart (to uncover problems)," Mr Hinchliffe said.

He denied the desalination plant was a white elephant but admitted the problems were "a frustration".

He said the reputation of the plant's contractors, including heavyweights John Holland Constructions and controversial French company Veolia, was at stake and it was in their interests to "get it right".

He said the Government, which budgeted $95 million this year to finish the plant, could withhold final payment to the contractors and take legal action if the faults were not fixed.

"The state won't be accepting the handover of the project until we're satisfied," he said.

"We also reserve the right to exercise our legal rights . . . to ensure the desalination plant that was specified is delivered."

Mr Hinchliffe said the repairs were the contractors' responsibility and taxpayers would not be out of pocket. He insisted the project was still a "fantastic" success, saying it had pumped 4.5 billion litres of water into the water grid.

Some problems had been expected with a project of the desalination plant's scale, Mr Hinchliffe said – and recent heavy rainfall over southeast Queensland had provided breathing space to get the facility working properly.

Despite the problems, Mr Hinchliffe would not rule out building more desalination plants if they were needed.

Other possible desalination plants have been earmarked for Lytton in Brisbane's east and either Bribie Island or Marcooola on the Sunshine Coast.

Former premier Peter Beattie warned that southeast Queenslanders could die if the Tugun desalination plant was not built quickly.

See - Courier Mail - $1.2b Gold Coast desalination plant a dud.


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