Construction companies have been told to remove their equipment from the Sunshine Coast Airport project.
Construction companies have been told to remove their equipment from the Sunshine Coast Airport project. Stuart Cumming

Airport project faces 12 weeks of delay: council

UPDATE: Sunshine Coast Council's Airport Expansion Team has dismissed as "fanciful" delays of three months and longer on the new runway's construction.

However, it did acknowledge that some sections of the project may be shut down for at least that amount of time.

Project leader Ross Ullman when pressed said he saw a solution as taking "a matter of four or five weeks" with delays of 12 weeks for some sections of the project.

He couldn't explain the source of an airport expansion project update issued by Sunshine Coast Council on May 7 which claimed work was "progressing well" despite the construction team knowing for weeks at least it had a major problem managing groundwater on the site.

Subcontractors who spoke with the Sunshine Coast Daily said all water had been contained on the site but could not be discharged until contamination issues were addressed.

Mr Ullman put the risk from PFAS contamination as very low with issues also relating to acid sulphate soils and hydrocarbons also a factor.

He said more than 200 megalitres of water had been contained on the site with water depths of a metre in places causing internal construction roads to be re-aligned.

The cost of the delays and how quickly water could be treated and removed had still to be assessed.

Mr Ullman said the Airport Expansion Project team was working closely with the Department of Environment and Science on resolve the ground water issues and claimed that to date it had received favourable environmental reports.

"It's a major project in a sensitive environment," he said.

Sunshine Coast Council called a press conference with 40 minutes notice this morning after the Sunshine Coast Daily had asked it a number of questions, set a deadline for a response and nominated we would publish on line at noon.

Despite Mr Ullman denying the conference had only been called because of the Daily's questions, none of the media who responded to the press call were aware of what was to be discussed.

The Daily has been aware since before Christmas of suggestions that potentially serious issues had been identified with groundwater management that would cause costly over-runs on the construction budget.

The council has consistently downplayed those concerns.

A Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said it had undertaken PFAS biota sampling in the local area near the Sunshine Coast Airport.

"PFAS was not detected in some samples. Where it was detected, it was well below the human health criteria for seafood consumption," he said.

"These samples indicated that there is no human health risk associated with PFAS from consuming locally caught seafood.

"The department has been advised by Airservices Australia and Sunshine Coast Council of their investigations into PFAS contamination at Sunshine Coast Airport.

"DES was advised that fire-fighting foam containing PFAS was used by Airservices Australia at the airport from 2004 until 2010.

"The Sunshine Coast Council completed their PFAS investigation in May 2018, as part of their Environmental Approval granted by DES for the airport expansion.

"Council's report indicated that while PFAS is present, groundwater concentrations are below national drinking water guideline values along the eastern boundary adjacent to residential areas.

"DES is currently working with Council to ensure that any PFAS contamination identified as part of the airport expansion project is being managed effectively.

"Queensland is a leader when it comes to PFAS management. We were the first Government in Australia to ban firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA and we are implementing a policy to phase out firefighting foam containing PFOS or PFOA by July 2019."

Fire fighting foam used by Airservices Australia at the airport between 2004 and 2010, contained PFAS chemicals that have been found to have contaminated sites around Australia.

The Department of Health rated the release of these chemicals into the environment as an "emerging concern" because they are highly persistent, have been shown to be toxic to fish and some animals and can accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people who come into contact with them.

EARLIER: Work has ground to a halt on the new Sunshine Coast Airport project with subcontractors told to remove all equipment from the site amid serious concerns about groundwater PFAS contamination.

Subcontractors said they were told by principal contractor John Holland on Friday that work could be shut down for three months or longer while a solution was found.

The halt has thrown into chaos the futures of subcontract businesses who have knocked back other work to commit to the project for 12 months.

"We are talking about millions and millions of dollars here," one business owner, who declined to be named, said. "It's going to have a great knock-on effect.

"The water (on site) is manageable if we could pump it anywhere.

"It's a great big balls up.

"A decision is needed on how to treat it and move it on.

"It's now costing businesses here heaps of money. It's just not bloody right.

"We've committed to this project for a year and now can't do it. Other work has gone elsewhere so we could concentrate our efforts here. We're all going to have to find something else to do.

"We've contained every bit of water on site but can't even pump it from puddle to puddle without a permit.

"It's going to cost squillions to get rid of it."

Sunshine Coast Council has been contacted for comment.

A number of what appear to be decontamination tanks have been placed on site to the north of taxi ways servicing air service business tenants at the airport, none of whom have been advised of the issues and any potential risk to their staff.

On May 4 in response to Sunshine Coast Daily questions about a slowing of work on the runway, a council representative said unseasonable rainfall had impacted on site conditions, requiring work on the new runway to be temporarily scaled back.

"It will resume in the very near future as soon as site conditions permit. Activities not impacted by the site conditions will continue," the spokesperson said.

"The contractor has advised that safety in the workplace is of paramount concern and council supports the contractor in acting in the interests of their employees and equipment.

"The project's construction program schedule accommodates short-term delays of this nature."

On May 7, in a project update published online, Sunshine Coast Council stated "council's Airport Expansion Project is progressing well and remains on target for completion by the end of 2020 as scheduled. The detailed airspace and flight path design for the new runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport is now being finalised".

The latest delay came after Sunshine Coast Council in January played down concerns about PFAS contamination.

At the time, a council spokesman said the levels found were very low compared with what existed at other airports around Australia and were not considered significant.

"The levels are in line with new national and state guidelines released in 2018, where site disturbance occurs, soils and groundwater from the site will be tested and treated as a precautionary measure if necessary," the spokesman said.

"This will be managed through a process of selective removal of soils and de-watering and storage of groundwater in accordance with Australian standards."

He said it was standard practice on construction sites where excavations where required and where the groundwater level was close to the surface.

"This groundwater will be tested against relevant water quality guidelines before being treated as necessary."

He said the process was not anticipated to impact on the completion date for the airport expansion project.

"Airservices Australia has developed a national program for addressing their legacy PFAS issues in consultation with all relevant State and Federal government agencies.

"Council is engaged with this process to ensure appropriate accountability is taken for the management of legacy PFAS matters going forward."