The Port of Townsville’s $232 million Channel Upgrade project is set to expand the services of what is already northern Australia’s largest commercial port. Roads & Infrastructure reports.
The Port of Townsville provides a vital link for the mining, agricultural, construction, energy, general cargo and retail sectors, along with the Defence and cruise industries.
The Port has supported North Queensland industries for over 150 years since it was established in 1864. This has included supporting Australia’s World War II campaign and the region’s emerging trade, particularly in the 1950s and 60s.
To continue connecting North Queensland’s goods and services with the rest of the world, the Port is now undergoing the most significant upgrade in its history.
At just 92 metres wide, Townsville’s shipping channel is one of the narrowest in the country and can only accommodate ships no larger than 238 metres in length.
As ships are getting larger, the channel must be widened to ensure vessels can safely access the Port, instead of bypassing Townsville.
The $232 million channel upgrade project will see the port end of the Platypus Channel widened to 180 metres, tapering to 120 metres offshore to accommodate vessels up to 300 metres in length.
The project forms part of the $1.6 billion Port Expansion Project, a long-term development plan for the Port of Townsville which will include the channel widening and deepening, land reclamation and construction of a new outer harbour, berths and other associated infrastructure.
The Port Expansion Project went through rigorous environment impact assessments by the Queensland and Australian governments before approvals were granted in 2017 and 2018.
Last year, the project hit a major milestone with the completion of the 2.2-kilometre, 10-metre-high rock wall, which encloses a 62-hectare reclamation area. Since April 2019, local suppliers had been tasked to deliver more than 800,000 tonnes of rock to the Port to support the construction of the wall.
Construction for the wall began in March 2020 and was completed in June 2021. The area will be used to place capital dredge material, following the construction of a temporary unloading facility on the western wall. It is here that dredge material will be unloaded, before being placed in the reclamation area.
Construction of the wall was not without its challenges, however. Construction on the structure took approximately two months longer than initially planned, before achieving practical completion in 2021.
This was due to additional rock being required to address the higher than anticipated pressure on the wall, which was caused by particularly high tides, which was only an issue while there was no fill inside.
The rock wall’s construction required innovative construction methods, which included the marine construction expertise of designers, engineers and environmental experts who worked together on the project.
The wall has been designed based on a similar rock wall at the Port of Townsville, which successfully weathered Cyclone Yasi in 2011 and other storm surges.
Impacts on the public were also considered during the construction of the rock wall. Hours for rock delivery were limited and residents were advised of the construction, to minimise disruptions and disturbances.
A Community and Stakeholder Engagement Plan has also been developed by the Port of Townsville to ensure that those who live, work, visit or operate near the port are consulted, and kept informed of the Channel Upgrade project.
Environmental and public impacts were considered during the consultation phase of the Port Expansion Project.
Since design work began in 2018, the project has supported employment for more than 1400 people across multiple local industries, with an emphasis on creating job opportunities for Traditional Owners, minority groups and trainees.
The Port of Townsville has also committed $17 million towards environmental monitoring and management programs to ensure the work has minimal impact on marine life. These include four key monitoring programs, focusing on dolphins, seagrass, coral and water quality.
The Port of Townsville engaged experts from South Australia’s Flinders University in 2019 to study the ecology of two listed species of dolphins in the Townsville region. These studies were conducted in relation to the construction activities which would be conducted as part of the Channel Upgrade Project.
The inshore dolphin monitoring program will undertake a series of surveys each year, over five years to assess Australian Snubfin and Australian Humpback dolphin populations in Cleveland and Halifax Bays.
Monitoring will also extend to seagrass, where the Port of Townsville will utilise its existing partnership with James Cook University’s TropWATER team (in partnership since 2007) in Cleveland Bay.
Seagrass monitoring provides an insight into both the status of water quality and the overall health of the marine environment in Townsville.
Water quality is monitored through 13 different sites at the Port, which have been used since July 2019. These include telemetered sites, which provide real time data during dredging.
Upon completion in 2023, the Channel Upgrade project including the wider channel will ensure that Townsville is not bypassed as a trade route for multiple industries. The new 62-hectare reclamation area will also provide the opportunity for increased trade with new industries.
One of these is green hydrogen, with the Port of Townsville signing Memorandums of Understanding with key renewable energy players including Origin Energy, Ark Energy and Edify Energy in 2021 to investigate exporting hydrogen from the Port.
Upgrades, including the Port Expansion Project, are set to increase the Port’s ability to process such materials.
The shipping of renewable hydrogen aligns with the Port of Townsville’s Port Vision 2050.
Port Vision 2050 is an ambitious and achievable blueprint for the Port’s next 30 years of operations with an emphasis on sustainability by combining efficient operations with social responsibility and innovate environmental practices. The innovative plan has a strong emphasis on climate change, a reason for the potential facilitation and export of green hydrogen. The plan also states that the Port’s goals align with those of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
This article was originally published in the February edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.