Toowoomba Regional Council has responded to the Inland Rail Gowrie to Helidon (G2H) draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), flagging areas of concern.

The areas flagged are groundwater, construction water, spoil management and local road connectivity, with the Council also highlighting concerns about construction timing, passenger rail and environmental and planning scheme impacts.

The response, which has been sent to the State Government’s Office of the Coordinator-General (OCG), outlines Council’s position that the draft EIS does not meet the OCG’s Terms of Reference.

The draft EIS has been prepared by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which is delivering the project on behalf of the Federal Government. Submissions to the OCG closed on 25 October 2021.

Toowoomba Region Mayor, Paul Antonio, said Council believed that construction works proposed to start in the second half of 2021 should not proceed until the flood studies are reviewed by an independent panel of international experts, had been finalised and the EIS itself had been approved.

“Council’s rigorous technical review of the draft EIS has found there is not sufficient detail or appropriate mitigation measures outlined for potential and possibly significant environmental, infrastructure, water resource, cultural, social and economic impacts of the proposed project,” Mr Antonio said.

“Council continues to support Inland Rail and can see the benefits of the nation-building project, but we must make sure that negative impacts on our region are minimised. Council will continue to push for the project to deliver the best possible outcomes for our communities.”

Mr Antonio said the Council was particularly concerned about sources of water for construction purposes.

“Given the significance of water in the region, ARTC needs to clearly outline an approach to construction water management that does not include Council resources. Our position is that all the water sources used to supply Toowoomba communities’ town water supplies are not available for the construction of the Inland Rail by ARTC or its contractors,” Mr Antonio said. 

“Council is also concerned that a tunnel through The Range may breach and potentially drain an aquifer which is used to source town water. Any loss of significant quantities of water is not acceptable.

“Among the concerns raised in our response is that local planning scheme requirements have been overlooked and that the draft EIS is inconsistent in its commitment to ensure capacity for a high-speed passenger rail service from Toowoomba to Brisbane in the future. 

“Council doesn’t believe that freight trains should be given priority over passenger rail through local communities, especially in a corridor that was originally set aside for passenger services.

“The draft EIS and reference design identifies several changes to road-rail interfaces, consolidations, diversions and closures of local roads that are not appropriate for the community.

“Spoil management is also an issue. ARTC is proposing to have a permanent spoil stockpile that will cover an area of 15 football fields and be nearly three storeys high at the western tunnel portal. 

“The draft EIS does not provide any meaningful visualisations or proposed mitigation measures and Council does not think this is an appropriate solution for spoil management.”

Mr Antonio also said that areas of concern include how the workforce will be accommodated, potential impacts on Indigenous cultural heritage, potential impacts to flora and fauna, mitigating air and noise impacts and landscaping and visual amenity.

“Council is also calling for ARTC to commit to a minimum target of 75 per cent for local business participation in supplying goods and services to the project,” Mr Antonio said. 

“We look forward to receiving a response from the OCG to our submission and hope that changes will be made to improve outcomes for our region.”Council’s response to the G2H draft EIS can be viewed under the EIS process tab here.

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