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Channel Upgrade - FAQs

Page last updated on 27-10-2022.

Channel Upgrade - FAQs

Port of Townsville has engaged extensively with its community and key stakeholders across the 10 year planning phase of the Port Expansion Project.

The Townsville Port Channel Upgrade is a joint project of the Queensland and Australian Governments and Port of Townsville Limited.  The Channel Upgrade forms part of the Townsville City Deal signed in December 2016.

What is the Channel Upgrade and why is it needed?

The Port of Townsville is northern Australia’s largest commercial port, but at 92 metres wide, its shipping channel is one of the narrowest in Australia, meaning only ships up to 238m long can access the Port.

Ships are getting larger, so the channel must be widened to allow vessels up to 300m long to safely access the Port, instead of bypassing Townsville.

What will the Channel Upgrade project deliver?

The Channel Upgrade project will result in a wider shipping channel and the construction of a 62 hectare port reclamation area. 

The shipping channel will be widened to 180 metres at the inshore (Port) end, then taper to a width of 120 metres in the Sea Channel.

The port reclamation area will be protected by a rock wall. All capital dredge material removed during channel widening will be transported to the mainland to be beneficially reused in the reclamation area.

Once complete, cruise, commercial and naval vessels of up to 300m long will be able to safely access the Port of Townsville.

How will potential environmental impacts be managed?

Gaining environmental approvals for the Channel Upgrade project has been a 12-year process, resulting in the Project being certified with the International Organisation for Standardisation ISO 14001:2015 – Environmental Management Certification.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been undertaken to evaluate any environmental impacts of channel widening works. This includes possible impacts from dredging on marine water quality. Extensive modelling and monitoring have informed the design, staging and method of construction to ensure minimal impacts to the environment.

The Channel Upgrade project will be completed in compliance with Federal and State approvals that include extensive environmental and monitoring requirements. The environmental monitoring requirements for the project include:

  • Marine Water Monitoring Plan
  • Coral Monitoring Plan
  • Seagrass Monitoring Plan
  • Shore Birds Monitoring Plan
  • Inshore Dolphins Monitoring Plan; and
  • Marine Megafauna Monitoring Plan

As part of the project, the Port has committed $17 million for environmental monitoring and management programs to ensure minimal impacts on megafauna, corals, seagrass and bird life in Cleveland Bay.

Monitoring will be undertaken before, during and after construction and capital dredging activities so that the data accurately identifies any Project-related effects compared to natural conditions.

Four environmental Management Plans and an Offset Management Strategy will document key management controls that apply across all construction activities. These plans include:

  • Offset Management Strategy
  • Marine Environmental Management Plan (MEMP)
  • Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP)
  • Dredge Management Plan (DMP); and
  • Construction Vessels Management Plan (CVMP)

These measures will ensure that the Project is completed in compliance with the approval requirements and will meet the highest environmental standards.

How does the Channel Upgrade project fit into the long-term development of the Port of Townsville?

Since its establishment in 1864, the Port of Townsville has continuously expanded in response to the growing needs of North Queensland. The latest evolution of the Port is the $1.6 billion Port Expansion Project - the largest infrastructure project in the Port’s history.

The Port Expansion Project is a 30-year development plan for the Port, which includes capital dredging for channel widening, land reclamation to develop a new outer harbour, wharves and associated infrastructure.

The project will be implemented in several stages to meet forecast trade demands.

Stage one of the Port Expansion Project is the Channel Upgrade project, which will deliver a wider shipping channel and a 62 hectare port reclamation area.

Why is a vessel’s length relevant to the channel width?

With a maximum width of 92 metres, Townsville’s shipping channel is one of the narrowest in Australia when compared to other commercial ports.

As vessels approach the Port through the shipping channel they slow down. As a vessel slows, the combined effects of weather and tidal conditions may cause it to travel at a slight angle. The longer the ship, the greater the risk that its bow or stern will impact with the side of the channel when it travels on an angle.

Widening the shipping channel to 180 metres at the inshore (Port) end, then tapering it to 120 metres in the Sea Channel, is an engineering solution that will reduce the risk of a longer vessel being grounded.  

How will the channel be widened?

The largest Australian owned mechanical backhoe dredge, Woomera, is being used to widen the channel as it reduces turbidity, sediment plumes and water quality impacts in comparison to other dredging methods.

The mechanical dredge is an excavator mounted onto a pontoon which removes the material from the seabed and places it on a waiting barge. The barge then transports the material to the reclamation area. No capital dredge material is disposed of at sea.

What are the different sections of the channel?

The 14.9km Townsville shipping channel is made up of three sections; the Sea Channel and the Outer Platypus and Inner Platypus Channels. Platypus was the name of a dredge that operated in Cleveland Bay in the 1800s.

When capital dredging is underway, 60 per cent will occur in the Inner Platypus Channel (within 3.5km of the inner harbour entrance). A further 30 per cent will occur in the Outer Platypus Channel and 10 per cent will occur in the Sea Channel adjacent to Magnetic Island.

Is any part of the Channel Upgrade project located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?

No. The Townsville Port is located outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

How will Townsville and North Queensland benefit from the Channel Upgrade project?

Because of the narrow width of the shipping channel, larger modern vessels are bypassing Townsville in favour of ports that can accommodate their size. This increases freight costs for North Queensland because the goods must be transported via rail or road over long distances from southern ports.

This causes delays and increases costs for North Queensland consumers. It also puts more pressure on our roads and the environment.

A wider channel will mean that more freight will be imported and exported through Townsville, thereby creating economic, employment and environmental benefits.

What are the hours of operation for the Channel Upgrade project?

Channel widening will occur 24 hours a day 7 days a week (weather permitting), and is expected to take two years.

What safety measures are being taken?

Cardinal marks have been placed around the dredge to indicate the exclusion zone for boaties. Vessels are advised to stay at least 100m away from the dredge and barges and to tune in to UHF 12 & 16 when out on the water. Additionally, a traffic management plan for vessels associated with the project has been implemented.

The Channel Upgrade project construction site cannot be accessed without authorisation. Any person entering the site must abide by site regulations, including the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

How long will it take to widen the channel?

Channel widening commenced on 15 March, 2022 and is expected to take two years.

Backhoe dredge Woomera is operating 24/7 (weather permitting) to complete the project.

Will channel widening impact travel to and from Magnetic Island?

Barge and ferry services are not expected to be impacted by the channel widening works. Woomera will be positioned alongside the channel, not in it, for the duration of works. Vessels may need to change course to remain outside the exclusion area in line with Notice to Mariners but this is unlikely to impact travel times.

What is the difference between capital dredging and maintenance dredging?

Capital dredging refers to the removal of previously undisturbed material from the seabed, for example, during channel widening. Maintenance dredging usually occurs annually to remove fine sediment that has built up in the channel over a period of time.

All capital dredge material from channel widening is being transported to the mainland to be used in the construction of the 62 hectare port reclamation area. As has been the case since 1993, fine sediment removed as part of annual maintenance dredging will continue to be deposited at the approved location in deeper water approximately 15km off-shore. 

Why does Cleveland Bay look dirty sometimes?

Cleveland Bay is a large, shallow bay with most of it having a depth of less than 10 metres. The bay is naturally turbid. Various factors contribute to turbidity levels, including weather events, wind, tides, flooding, dredging, cyclones and sediment run-off from creeks and riverways as well as increased urbanisation. Sediment flowing from the Burdekin River has a significant impact on Cleveland Bay.

Water quality monitoring undertaken in Cleveland Bay shows that the greatest influence on turbidity in the bay is wind-driven waves.

Who will oversee the capital dredging program?

The Channel Upgrade project will be carried out in accordance with a stringent Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) which sets out controls and safeguards that have been developed to meet the environmental approval requirements.

The widening of the channel and harbour works will be governed by permits and approvals from a range of Commonwealth and Queensland government agencies (the ‘Regulators’). These Regulators will set conditions for the project and also monitor and enforce compliance with these conditions.

The members of an Independent Technical Advisory Committee (ITAC) from across Australia provide independent scientific and technical advice in relation to the development and implementation of environmental monitoring programs and the Channel Upgrade Project’s Dredge Management Plan.

The ITAC is comprised of an Independent Chair as well as technical / scientific specialists covering the following fields: 

  •  Marine water quality
  • Coral ecosystems
  • Seagrass ecosystems
  • Marine megafauna
  • Coastal hydrodynamics
  • Dredging operations
  • Sediment transportation

The Townsville Port Community Liaison Group (CLG) also provides ongoing community input to the project.

How many people are employed on the Channel Upgrade project?

The project has supported employment for more than 1700 people since design and construction commenced.

What benefits does the Channel Upgrade project deliver for local businesses?

The Port of Townsville has a longstanding policy of supporting local businesses wherever possible, and this project will continue that practice. Additionally, the project aligns its procurement practices with Queensland Government procurement policies, and local weightings apply to all tenders. Tenders for the Channel Upgrade project are advertised on Qld QTenders

How has the Channel Upgrade project been funded?

The $251 million funding for the Channel Upgrade project has been provided by the State and Federal Governments and Port of Townsville.

  • Federal Government: $75 million
  • Queensland Government: $105 million
  • Port of Townsville: $71 million