Dinosaur bones may delay $3 billion project

01 December 2007 | 05:09 Code : 16061 Geoscience events
DINOSAUR bones dating back 115 million years could lead to cost blowouts....

  DINOSAUR bones dating back 115 million years could lead to cost blowouts and delays for Victoria's $3 billion desalination plant.Bones, teeth and vertebrae of dinosaurs and ancient marine reptiles have been found in a rock shelf on the beach at the South Gippsland township Wonthaggi. The find, described by scientists as internationally significant, is in front of the planned site for the desalination plant at Powlett River - southeast of Melbourne. Dinosaur expert Lesley Kool said the prehistoric discovery linked Australia with the Antarctic. Local MP Ken Smith demanded a full environmental effects statement on the desalination plant. "It's like boring through the tombs of the ancient emperors in Egypt or drilling holes through the Terracotta Warriors in China after they had been discovered," he said. A full report and public comment could cause lengthy delays and cost blowouts for the project, which is scheduled to supply Melbourne with water by 2011. Construction is due to start next year. But EES inquiries into other projects, including the failed toxic dump plan at Nowingi in north-west Victoria and channel-deepening in Port Phillip Bay, have been expensive and time-consuming. The dinosaur bones were first documented by scientists in 1994, but had been a secret until last week. It was only last week that experts realised the Department of Sustainability and Environment was probably unaware the rock shelf lay in the most likely path for the inflow and outfall pipes for the desalination plant. Melbourne Museum's curator of vertebrate palaeontology, Dr Tom Rich, wrote to the department about the fossils' presence. Water Minister Tim Holding's spokesman, Luke Enright, would not say whether the Government would agree to an EES. "We will take all environmental and cultural issues into consideration when determining the final specifications and location for the inlet and outlet structures, pipelines and the plant," he said. Mrs Kool, an honorary research associate at Monash University, has spent the past few days examining the site with Dr Rich. She said the ancient remains were discovered on the surface of the rocky shelf, which was occasionally exposed by the tides and wind. The fossilised remains of a plant-eating dinosaur species known as ornithopods had been discovered, as well as those of giant sea-going reptiles called plesiosaurs. The remains of polar lungfish had also been found. Mrs Kool said this was scientifically relevant, because lungfish now lived only in warm waters. "There is evidence of dinosaurs, teeth, bones and vertebrae," she said. "The rocks were deposited at a time when Australia was in the polar circle." Mrs Kool said because no digging had been done at the site, she did not know how deep the rock shelf was, and how much of an impact the tunnels that needed to be dug for the desalination pipes would have on the site. "If it's going to be down 10m or more, it probably won't impact on our fossil layer," she said. Personally, she believes desalination ought to be a last resort. "On a scientific level, my concern is that the fossil locality won't be damaged," she said. Mr Smith, the Liberal member for Bass, said the Brumby Government must conduct an EES. "This is a site of international significance and an environmental effects statement is not optional. It's compulsory," he said. "John Brumby's Government has failed to deliver water security for Victorians for eight years, and now they want to rush this project through and take an undeveloped area of the coast and industrialise it." Bass Coast Shire councillor Gareth Barlow said DSE investigations were "slip-shod" and he was sure the department hadn't known of the bones until now. He said VicRoads advertised in last week's Herald Sun for a tender to design and construct tunnels at the site. "The Government must commit to an EES that is open, transparent and commented on by the scientific community," he said

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