The Australian 30/9/05


'Room for progress' in resort ban
Amanda Hodge       THE AUSTRALIAN

NO is not a word that has ever carried much weight with Keith Williams.

The Queensland king of the white-shoe developers did not like it in 1994 when the commonwealth forbade him from clearing mangroves for his Port Hinchinbrook development. He dragged in lights and bulldozers after hours and did it anyway, ahead of the formal serving of stop-work orders by a local policeman at 3am.

So news that the Queensland Environment Protection Authority had refused the second stage of his north Queensland mega-resort in the coastal town of Cardwell left him similarly unimpressed yesterday.

The $200million development would have added a 335-block canal estate with 26ha of plastic-lined artificial lake, finger wharfs, motel and golf course to the existing marina, housing estate and boatyard.

But 11 years after giving Williams its blessing, the EPA ruled that the second stage posed an unacceptable risk to the high environmental and conservation values of a nearby melaleuca wetland earmarked to become national park.

Queensland Environment Minister Desley Boyle said she had "serious concerns about the work that would take place to construct the development".

"The Cardwell Hinchinbrook coastal area is a special part of Queensland and there has been significant public disquiet over development activity impacting on those natural values."

The fight to protect Oyster Point - opposite the World Heritage-listed Hinchinbrook Island and near important dugong habitat - began in the late 1980s and by the mid 90s had attracted national attention.

A remarkably sanguine Mr Williams said he was neither surprised nor upset by the refusal.

"Many years ago, when the commonwealth tried to stop us from building stage one, that was a worse situation than we have at the present time," said the developer responsible for Seaworld on the Gold Coast and Hamilton Island.

"This is just a procedure. Now we sit down and negotiate."

His newly acquired partner in the venture, Brisbane-based Meridien Developments, ruled out appealing against the refusal through the courts.

Instead, managing director Russell McCart said he would attempt to "work through" the EPA's concerns.

"I'm confident there's a desire and recognition by all parties that the land which we're proposing to develop is severely degraded and good for development," he said.

In Cardwell, long-time Port Hinchinbrook opponent Margaret Moorhouse - to whom Mr Williams once referred as "a wart on the arse of progress" - received the news with quiet elation but warned the refusal could still be overturned.


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