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Why Sunshine Coast Council’s largest ever infrastructure project proved a worthy award winner

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The Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project hasn’t just been significant for creating an international-standard aviation facility – it’s also the first time a Queensland Local Government Authority has delivered on such a project in its own right. 

As such, it marks the largest civil infrastructure project ever undertaken by Sunshine Coast Council, in a bid to expand and future-proof international access to the area – and is the IPWEA Excellence Awards Best Public Works Project Over $5 million.

In the works since initial planning began back in 2005, the project has seen the airport’s existing 30m-wide runway significantly widened and relaid to be able to service the wide-body medium-haul aircraft favoured by airlines around the world. 

The new runway has been constructed to meet the CASA standards, which require a landing area that’s 45m wide centred in a 300m-wide strip.  

This will mean that the likes of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 will be able to land at Sunshine Coast Airport along with the current domestic fleet, without any restrictions – and is forecast to boost Gross Regional Product (GRP) by $4.1 billion by 2040.

Environmental considerations

Sunshine Coast Airport is situated directly on the coast and is abutted to the north and south by Mount Coolum National Park. As the Environmental Impact Study was being prepared, significant potential impacts were identified that would need to be mitigated.

These included three Matters of National and Environmental Significance that could be impacted, namely wetlands of international importance, listed threatened species and listed migratory species. The latter two considerations included ground parrots and several species of wallum frog.

To manage these impacts, replacement habitat of more than 65 hectares was established and a conservation corridor of 40 hectares linking the northern and southern sections of Mount Coolum National Park was established.

It was also necessary to translocate nearly five hectares of Emu Mountain’s she-oak forest to another location within the larger site, while construction phases were limited or halted at times of the year when species breeding occur.

Logistical and funding innovations 

Two areas of innovation and best-practice management were around the logistics of the build and gaining funding for such a large project.

The new runway embankment required the placement of large volumes of marine sand for construction, within a short timeframe. Transported in the usual way, this would have required a fully loaded truck and dog trailer to arrive at the site every minute, 24 hours a day, for two months. 

This was clearly not possible, and so material was instead sourced directly from Moreton Bay, where sand deposits were dredged and placed on the site using hydraulic placement methods.

Processes such as these for such a huge infrastructure project were undertaken at cost, and Sunshine Coast Council entered into a landmark funding arrangement so taxpayers wouldn’t be forced to foot the bill.

The Council  offered a competitive bid for the rights to operate the existing airport until the new runway was completed, then for operating the new facility for a 90-year lease term. This raised sufficient funds to cover the cost of the project.  

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