Image for Maths, law and Gunns’ Tamar Valley pulp mill - a story of beer and effluent

Numbers feature prominently in many articles about the Gunns Tamar Valley Pulp Mill, and they can be very confusing.  This might help to put them into perspective – all Gunns’ figures are taken from the company’s own publications -

• Boags Brewery in Launceston opened a new facility in late 2009 which will double their capacity from 50 million litres per year to 100 million litres per year.  Let’s assume they’re halfway there, and current production is 75 million litres of beer per year.

• When operating at initial capacity of 820,000 air-dried tonnes of pulp per year, Gunns Tamar Valley Pulp Mill will use just over 64 million litres of water per DAY, and discharge 59 million litres of effluent per DAY.  Every DAY, the mill will use almost as much water and discharge almost as much effluent, as Boags is able to produce in beer for a whole YEAR.

• The Tamar Valley Pulp Mill is expected to operate for 350 days of the year.  That means it would take Boags 273 YEARS, at current production levels, to produce as much beer, as the pulp mill will produce effluent in ONE year.

• When full pulp production of 1,100,000 air-dried tonnes of pulp per year is reached, the mill will be using 80 million litres of water per DAY (372 beer years equals one pulp mill year), and discharging 72 million litres of effluent per DAY (337 beer years equals one pulp mill year). 

• To recap - that’s 72 million litres of effluent per DAY – remember, it takes Boags a whole YEAR to produce 75 million litres of beer, and 337 YEARS to produce as much beer as the mill will produce effluent in ONE YEAR.

Why is pulp mill water usage and effluent discharge so huge?  Because if the effluent from the pulp mill wasn’t massively diluted, it would be lethal to pretty much every living thing it came in contact with.

It’s also important to note that the pulp mill itself is enormous.  Everyone can visualise how big an AFL pitch is – the average field is just over 22,000 square metres in area.  So, keep that in mind, and think about these figures –

• Gunns Tamar Valley Pulp Mill site is 6 million square metres in area – about the size of 270 AFL fields.

• The distance from the Rowella area on the west bank of the Tamar to the pulp mill site is about one kilometre – about the length of 6 football fields.  This is a photo of the UPM mill in Uruguay, which is the same size as Gunns proposed mill, taken from a kilometre away -http://www.daylife.com/photo/0fPDepceYY7II

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• The distance from the Tamar Ridge Winery Kayena site to the pulp mill is around 4 kilometres – about the length of 24 AFL fields.  This photo of the UPM mill was taken from about 5 kilometres away - http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/03/2022481.htm.
Interestingly, Gunns have sold Tamar Ridge Wines – maybe they were concerned that the pulp mill would be bad for business.

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PS Mark Wybourne – the people on the bridge are very unhappy South Americans, and guess what they’re protesting about.  Many of them live and work in the Argentine city of Gualeguaychu – population 80,000 - about 30 kilometres from the pulp mill site.  The mill is polluting the river running through their town, and damaging their tourist industry. 

And, what about the law?  Everyone knows that Gunns Tamar Valley Pulp Mill was on the receiving end of a massive legislative boost known as the Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007 (Tas).

As well as ‘fast-tracking’ approval of the pulp mill project, section 11 of the Act also protected Gunns from complaints, and claims in respect of the mill, unless criminal activity is involved.

Let’s put this in perspective.  Scale everything down to a personal level, and imagine you’re living happily in an apartment block.  Your neighbour decides to set up a hydroponic garden, and coffee roasting business in his apartment.  He applies for council approval, and things aren’t looking good for him.  You’re worried that your neighbour’s massive water usage will affect your own supply, and you’re not too happy about the smell of burning coffee beans – the council inspector seems to agree with you.  Then suddenly things change.  Your neighbour has a few mates on the council, and before you know it, he has his permits.  You weren’t even consulted, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  The council tells you that you can’t even complain.

Get the idea?

You’re stuck with your smelly, water-guzzling neighbour.  Your only option is to move, but no-one wants to buy your place.  And, to think you voted for your neighbour’s council mates at the last election.  What a rip-off!

[The Pulp Mill Assessment Act has been challenged in the courts – in one case by Lucy Landon-Lane (Landon-Lane v Minister for Economic Development and Tourism and Premier of Tasmania [2009] TASSC 50). 

Ms Landon-Lane’s application for judicial review of decisions made under the Pulp Mill Assessment Act was dismissed by Justice Peter Evans. 

The judgment is a load of the usual judicial BS – it is, however, crystal clear that the Tasmanian Supreme Court has no interest in interpreting the Act to favour anyone other than Gunns.  And, section 11 is so widely drawn that it will probably preclude any claims against Gunns, ever.]

Bronwyn Williams is an Accountant/Lawyer/Community Worker and passable mathematician