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Barngarla join fight to reposition Pt. Lincoln desal plant

Written by: Nick G. on 2 February 2024


Above - a 2021 rally in Pt Lincoln against the desal plant   Photo by ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton

The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, which led the successful fight to block the proposed nuclear waste dump at Kimba on Eyre Peninsula, has joined Pt. Lincoln aquaculture companies to oppose a $313 million 3.5 gigalitre desalination plant at Billy Light’s Point about 1km across the water from the local marina.

Oceanographer Professor Jochen Kaempf and Dr Paul McShane, a highly experienced marine biologist, have criticised the selection of Billy Light’s Point because its waters are part of Boston Bay, which has poor flushing characteristics within the bay and poor water circulation.

Desalination plants remove salt from seawater to produce freshwater. In doing so, they produce hyper-saline effluent (at least twice the concentration of normal seawater) which is discharged into coastal waters. Because of the potentially harmful effects of their effluent, desalination plants are recommended to be situated on high energy coastlines where wave action and ocean currents can disperse effluent to harmless levels.

In fact, SA Water first identified three sites in the Sleaford Bay, 25km south of Pt Lincoln as an area for a desalination plant for Eyre Peninsula in 2009. Sleaford Bay is on the southern side of the Lincoln National Park and faces the deep open waters of the Great Australian Bight, whereas Billy Light’s Point is on the northern side of the Park, and sheltered by it from the currents of the open coastline.

Aquaculture in Boston Bay includes the growing of mussels and industry leaders say their industry would be threatened by a desal plant’s hypersaline discharges. Five local councils around Pt. Lincoln oppose Billy Light’s Point as the site for the desal plant.

When a Billy Light’s Point site was announced it sparked community protest in November 2021 with a rally of about 350 people and a flotilla of fishing vessels under the banner Hands Off Boston Bay

The Barngala people regard the Billy Light’s Point waters as a site of cultural and heritage significance. 

Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation deputy chairman Jason Bilney said Billy Light’s Point had some of the last pre-colonial fish traps in the Port Lincoln area and echoed community concerns about environmental damage to the lucrative aquaculture industry.  The Barngarla were ignored when the marina was developed and lost heritage fish traps to the development.

The South Australian government, which is currently calling for nominations from SA First Peoples for elections to the Voice to the SA Parliament, faces a real test of its commitment to listen to First Peoples.

It can either listen to the Barngarla and relocate the desal plant to Sleaford Bay, or it can follow the dictates of capitalism’s destructive war on nature. 
The indications so far are that the economics of the capitalist path represent the government’s preferred option.

Climate, Environment and Water Minister Susan Close, deputy premier and a leader of the so-called “Left” faction of the ALP in SA, has said that the Sleaford West site would cost $150 million more than the Billy Lights Point proposition.

"Billy Light’s is the one that stacks up. It stacks up because it is the cheapest," Dr Close said.

Eyre Peninsula needs a desal plant. Its 35,000 customers currently use the local Uley Basin water supply, but require a further 1.7 gigalitres pumped annually all the way from the Murray River.

Surely the cost of a 25km pipeline from Sleaford Bay is worth saving the aquaculture industry of Boston Bay and the Barngarla’s heritage fish trap sites.


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