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Inquiry to probe Paradise Dam failures after release of detailed technical reports

Nicole Hegarty and Johanna Marie, Friday November 29, 2019 - 17:09 EDT
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Inspector Pat Swindells, Minister Anthony Lynham and Sunwater chair Leith Boully discuss the technical reports. - ABC

The Queensland Government has announced an independent inquiry into the structural issues at Bundaberg's Paradise Dam, after technical reports released today show the faults originate with its initial construction.

"The dam was constructed in layers of rolled concrete, and the bonding between those layers, that is the issue," Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham said.

The detailed reports also confirmed a risk to the stability of the dam wall and major flooding in Bundaberg if there was another extreme weather event like the 2013 floods.

"This is why Sunwater made the decision to release water and lower Paradise Dam's spillway by five metres," Dr Lynham said.

The Minister said the dam was safe now and that the Inspector-General of Emergency Management was reviewing disaster preparedness planning for the community.

Sunwater released the technical reports more than two months after it began emptying 105,000 megalitres of water out of Paradise Dam to lower its capacity to 42 per cent.

Dr Lynham said the documents were finalised days ago and were available on Sunwater's website.

"We've always said to the community of Bundaberg that once we have the detailed technical reports in place, they would be released to the public," he said.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said it was unacceptable that it had taken this long for the public to find out what was wrong.

"The fact that precious water has been released from a dam without the Minister even having a handle on the reason why it was released in the first place is an absolute embarrassment," she said.

Independent inquiry announced

Dr Lynham said former Supreme Court judge John Byrne will head the inquiry into the dam, which was built by the Labor government in 2005.

"Justice John Byrne will get to the bottom of this with a public inquiry and I'll await their results," he said.

The inquiry will take public submissions, with the terms of reference to be released next week; the Opposition, however, said it wasn't good enough.

"What we've called for is an open and transparent inquiry, and we can't even see the terms of reference," Ms Frecklington said.

"We want to get to the bottom of it, we know that the people of Bundaberg and surrounds, both the North and South Burnett, are suffering from this decision."

When did Sunwater learn of the issues?

Sunwater chair Leith Boully denied the operator had known about the issues with the concrete prior to September this year.

She said the issues were not picked up during an inspection of flood damage in 2013, nor when repair work was carried out.

"In 2013 we addressed the issues that arose with the 2013 flood, and then we progressed the normal dam safety improvement assessments as we would for any dam," she said.

"It was confirmed through an independent technical reference panel in September that we needed to act on the structural issues."

Dr Lynham said action could not have been taken any sooner.

"There's been something like 10 technical reports since 2013," he said.

"It is open and transparent for all to see about why and how these actions were taken since 2013."

Thousands of documents

The ABC can reveal that Sunwater has at least 23,000 documents related to photographic evidence showing structural faults and safety issues with the dam over the past five years, after trying to access the material through a Right-To-Information application.

The dam operator said it would have to engage a third-party provider to carry out the review of the electronic correspondence before releasing any documents.

The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy initially declined to process a separate application, after finding there were so many documents over the past year that it would "substantially and unreasonably divert the department's resources" if staff had to source the material for public release.


© ABC 2019

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