Darren Gray April 13, 2012
Tourists visit the iconic Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
A BUSY visitor site; a world-famous landmark luring more than a million tourists a year; and claims of occasional treated sewage water discharges into a national park. These are some of the key ingredients in a row over visitor facilities at the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.
Geelong Otway Tourism executive director Roger Grant claimed yesterday that at peak times, such as Easter, treated sewage water was discharged from the waste-water treatment plant at the Twelve Apostles visitor site and into Port Campbell National Park.
The toilets and waste treatment plant simply could not cope with the surging number of visitors to the site, he said, which numbered about 1.6 million a year. The discharged water made its way through the landscape and over the cliffs above the Twelve Apostles, he said.
''It's not satisfactory from the conservation point of view and it's not a satisfactory experience from a tourism point of view,'' he said.
But the waste-water treatment plant is not breaching environmental rules. A spokeswoman for the Environment Protection Authority confirmed that Parks Victoria, the body responsible for the site, had a licence to run a waste-water treatment plant at the site and was allowed to discharge ''treated waste water. This waste water has been treated to drinking standard,'' she said, a higher standard than the requirements of the licence.
The EPA spokeswoman said there had been no reports of ''non-compliance'' at the site, which ''is considered a low-risk site as it has a waste-water treatment system that is less than five years old''.
Parks Victoria ranger Will Cox strongly defended the plant and toilet facilities. He said any ''occasional overflow'' from the plant was ''not sewage. It is treated/recycled water which is at the end of its treatment cycle. Overflow occurs infrequently after heavy rain or heavy use.''
Mr Cox said Parks Victoria ''undertakes strict water-quality monitoring and testing to ensure all EPA requirements are adhered to''. And he said rangers were ''not aware of any complaints from visitors about the toilets over the Easter break''.
Tourism Minister Louise Asher said that any upgrades to the Twelve Apostles site ''would need to be initiated and managed by Parks Victoria''. She also said the government was ''committed to improving tourism infrastructure around the state, particularly in high traffic areas like the Great Ocean Road. The road is one of Victoria's best attractions, and the state government would not want to discourage interstate and overseas visitors from experiencing it.''
The concern about the facilities at the Twelve Apostles site is a sign of an emerging push for improved tourism facilities. Corangamite Shire Council recently applied to the government to rezone more than 1100 hectares of land - including parcels on the Great Ocean Road - to house more accommodation for tourists.
The move caused consternation among some locals and was slammed by the Victorian National Parks Association, but was backed by the Victoria Tourism Industry Council.