Aerial view over construction of the East -West Runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport. Photo Lachie Millard
Aerial view over construction of the East -West Runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport. Photo Lachie Millard

Airport cops $2.5m hit in toxic saga breaking point

A $2.5 MILLION pipeline will be built to drain about 125 megalitres of ponded water being held on the Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project site into the ocean.

Above average rainfall from March until June left significant volumes of water ponded across the site.

Project control group chairman and Deputy Mayor, Tim Dwyer, confirmed the method of release, with surface water and any extracted groundwater to be tested and, if required, treated in an on-site water treatment plant to ensure it was below national PFAS contamination levels before its release.

"The release of ponded water from the site direct to the ocean is the optimum solution, as it ensures the stored waters are released at a much greater rate, whilst minimising any potential impacts," Cr Dwyer said.

"Importantly, the ocean release proposal is supported by Department of Environment and Science as being safe for humans, fish species, animals and the environment."

Water storage tanks at the Sunshine Coast Airport.
Water storage tanks at the Sunshine Coast Airport.

Cr Dwyer said the council had taken the most cautious and environmentally responsibly approach by holding the water on-site while reviewing available options.

"These actions are consistent with the prudent and responsible approach council has taken with this project since day one, and ensures that we are delivering the best solution for the project and for our ratepayers, whilst ensuring we are acting responsibly in terms of our environmental obligations," he said.

"Council is committed to going the extra mile and exceeding requirements. The contaminant concentrations of the water at the release point will be almost 200 times below the allowable level."

An underground pipeline will be installed about 4.5m under David Low Way and under the dunes, beach and sea floor, out 400m east of the lowest astronomical tide mark.

The pipe outlet will reach about 50cm above the sea floor, about 10m below lowest astronomical tide level, and not be visible from the beach.

A PFAS management plan is now in place to treat contaminated groundwater controlled on the Sunshine Coast Airport runway construction site.
A PFAS management plan is now in place to treat contaminated groundwater controlled on the Sunshine Coast Airport runway construction site.

Up to eight megalitres of water will be pumped through the pipe each day, allowing the water currently ponded to be removed from site within 20 days, weather permitting.

It would also allow future average rainfall events to be discharged with 24-48 hours.

The pipeline will be funded by the council from the Airport Expansion project budget.

The project is funded from borrowings, which will be repaid in full when the council receives the final project payment from Palisade Investment Partners in July, 2022.

Cr Dwyer said there may be a yellow or brown stain in the water being pumped out, and a foam could form in the mixing zone where the freshwater meets saltwater.

"While this foam may appear brown in colour, council is advised there is no health risk," he said.

Council advised that "based on advice from the contractor" the airport expansion project remained on track to be finished by Christmas 2020.

In July it was revealed a 22 million mega litre water tank had been installed at the site, as part of the move to treat and release the PFAS-contaminated water.

Sunshine Coast Airport masterplan.
Sunshine Coast Airport masterplan.

On May 13 project director Ross Ullman revealed 220 megalitres were on the site, and 60 megalitres that had met Department of Environment and Science standards later released.

The council was set to retain an economic interest in the Airport's operations, and receive an annual payment of 5 per cent of gross revenue, estimated to equate to about $205 million, over the life of the 99-year lease with Palisade.

Last week it was revealed in a report to a council special meeting that the new runway project was nearly $10 million over budget for the 2018-19 financial year, and further overruns were expected for this year's budget.

But the council maintained there would be no enduring cost to ratepayers for the new runway project, as it was ultimately being funded by Palisade's investment.