West port responds: There was no tinkering

Following last week’s THINKING ALLOWED by Fremantle resident Ben Lawver on his time on the Westport Taskforce, which included criticisms key information was changed to suit a political agenda, Taskforce chair NICOLE LOCKWOOD responds and says the process was transparent and made the right decision.

I ACKNOWLEDGE that  there is some opposition to the Westport project and the recommendations that were announced by premier McGowan last week, however a number of the claims are  actually incorrect, and others are very tenuously linked to facts. 

Westport’s work to date is based on rigorous and independent science and this will continue throughout the next four years of the project. There is more than $20 million over the four years committed to scientific studies and investigation, and prototyping of rehabilitation and resilience building projects in order to deliver a sustainable port in Cockburn Sound.

Please see below my responses addressing each point from your email.

One Westport report contained 17 environmental ‘red flags’ associated with building an outer harbour in Cockburn Sound”, but following a meeting when the report was released, “those environmental ‘red flags’ had been changed.

The document referred to here is an early draft of the “Environmental Work Stream Stage 1 Progress Report” that was developed by the Environmental Work Stream.

 The environmental work stream consisted of a large (40+) number of environmental experts, environmental groups, community organisations, and Westport Reference Group members. 

These members reviewed a number of draft versions of the report and the changes were discussed robustly and a consensus reached. 

Furthermore Westport subsequently commissioned the Western Australian Marine Science Institute (WAMSI) to review this internal report and undertake a comprehensive literature review and risk assessment of the port options. The subsequent WAMSI report as well as expert opinion was used as the basis for Westport’s option assessment process.

While all members participated productively in the work stream, a version of this early draft document was leaked and portions have been used out of context repeatedly in efforts to discredit Westport’s work. Westport has never attempted to down play the high importance of Cockburn Sound’s environmental and social values, and it is not unexpected that a large number of issues were identified in this area. The environmental issues have been detailed in a number of Westport publications all of which are available on Westport’s website. These include the Westport: What We Have Found So Far (December 2018) report; Westport Beacon 10: Preserving the marine environment (September 2019); and the recent Westport Future Port Recommendations Stage 2 Report. 

Environmental concerns were ranked so low the final options on the shortlist were the “five absolute worst for environmental outcomes”.

This claim is incorrect from two perspectives. Firstly, Westport’s options assessment process is transparently detailed in Westport Beacon 7: Westport’s Shortlist. 

In this process the marine and terrestrial environmental criteria carried 21.8 per cent of each port’s final score. For reference, this compares with 18.2  per cent for capital expenditure and land acquisition; 16.4 per cent for operations and maintenance costs; 9.1 per cent for net amenity impacts; and 14.5 per cent for land use compatibility. 

Secondly, it is also incorrect to claim that Westport’s shortlist contained the “five absolute worst for environmental outcomes”. Westport Beacon 7 (linked above) outlines the strengths and weaknesses of all of the shortlisted options. 

In particular it should be noted that the option which has become Westport’s preferred option (either as an immediate or staged relocation from Fremantle) was one of the best performing Kwinana-based options. The worst performing environmental options did not progress beyond the first multi-criteria analysis (MCA-1), with poor environmental scores counting significantly against them.

It is acknowledged that the best performing environmental options included options that maintained the container trade in its entirety at Fremantle. Westport Beacon 8: Why Fremantle can’t handle the long-term freight task alone (August 2019), details the reasons why those options performed poorly against other criteria (high capital costs, limited scalability, constraints of berth depth and ships sizes at the existing container terminals, road capacity and road upgrades, traffic impact on residents / amenity). 

Westport investigated tunnelling freight rail between Victoria Quay and the South Fremantle Power Station in order to unlock freight capacity, however the capital costs were prohibitive. 

It is important to note that one of Westport’s remaining options is for a Fremantle container port to operate in conjunction with a new port in Kwinana for up to 15 years, to around 2045. This means that in the coming years detailed economic and logistics work can be undertaken to further assess the viability of this dual port option. There is a long way to go before a final decision is made on the end date for container port operations at Fremantle.

 The final trade forecasts were inflated from those provided by the ‘independent’ consultants Deloitte, which were never revealed to the public.

The resultant trade forecasts would require “every man, woman and child in WA … to almost triple our consumption of overseas goods to be accurate.

Westport Beacon 5: Long-term container trade forecasts provides a detailed summary of how Westport refined the range of forecasts that have been used to date. This document openly discusses the progression from Deloitte Access Economics’ initial estimates, and I note that the DAE Summary Report: Macroeconomic and trade forecasts is also from the Westport website.  Westport settled on the conservative CAGR of 3.25 per cent, which results in a container trade volume of 3.8 million TEUs by 2068.

Any freight efficiency that can be achieved at Fremantle will be moved to Kwinana once the outer harbour is built”. The suggestion being that Westport was working to a pre-determined outcome.

In relation to comments attributed to me 10 months before the publication of the final report, such comments were simply a statement made in relation to one of the many possible scenarios that were being considered by Westport, and in no way could be interpreted as being indicative of a pre-determined outcome.

Did any Westport staff without the commensurate scientific qualifications, alter or re-interpret any scientific data provided by independent consultants for the public report?

Lastly, I would like to  firmly refute any suggestion that Westport’s environmental staff are unqualified, or would alter any scientific data. There is simply no basis to this disappointing claim.

All work was overseen by an Environmental Work Stream Chair,  undertaken and reviewed by technical experts, and peer reviewed by Westport’s respected Environmental Peer Reviewer Mr Ian Le Provost. I would 

be happy to refer any specific accusation of manipulation to the relevant technical expert / author of scientific research for their comment, but I can unequivocally state that none to date have contacted Westport with any concerns that their research has been misrepresented.

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