Aquis Discounts Environmental Concerns

Environmentalists are worried about the fragile ecosystem of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef if Tony Fung’s $4 billion Aquis megaresort goes ahead in northern Queensland as planned. Aquis contends its impact will be minimal.

Queensland’s proposed A billion Aquis gaming resort near the Great Barrier Reef does not need a federal environmental assessment, its backers say.

In a submission to Australia’s Department of the Environment, the development group funded by Hong Kong financier Tony Fung says any impacts on the surrounding environment—including the reef—were not significant enough to warrant the assessment.

Should the proposal be considered for a “controlled action” under environmental legislation, a report appended to the submission is good enough, the developers said.

“A draft EIS (environmental impact statement) has been completed but not submitted to the coordinator-general, pending finalization of a related issuing of a casino license that is critical to the project viability,” the company said.

Slated for 340 hectares on the northern coast near Cairns, Aquis’ plans include up to 12,000 hotel rooms and luxury residential units at full build-out, a golf course and a man-made lake filled via a 2.2-kilometer pipeline from the Great Barrier Reef.

The resort would be built on the Barron River floodplain, which drains into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon on land used mostly as sugar cane plantations.

Environmentalists claim the casino could disturb the delicate floodplain, risk pollution of the Great Barrier Reef and heighten the risk of flooding. Community groups have expressed concern at the size of the resort and its potential social and economic impacts and question whether any economic benefits would flow from tourists arriving on cruise ships.

Andrew Picone of the Australian Conservation Foundation said, “The environment there is already a flood plain, it is prone to flooding even without the creation of artificial lakes. With climate change and rising sea levels, massive developments like this in storm surge zones put the environment at risk and put lives at risk, too.”

“It’s a very sensitive area, and it’s a massive development,” said Wendy Tubman, a coordinator of the North Queensland Conservation Council. “It’s only reasonable that they take precautions, even if it slows them up a bit.”