for National Geographic News
Fears over the destruction of ancient polar dinosaur fossils are throwing a wrench into plans to build a 2.7-billion-U.S.-dollar desalination plant near drought-stricken Melbourne.
The fossil bed—part of a site dubbed Dinosaur Cove—sits at the mouth of the Powlett River near Kilcunda in Australia's southeastern state of Victoria (see map).
A rock shelf there holds the bones of small plant-eating dinosaurs called ornithopods that lived 115 million years ago, according to Tom Rich, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Museum Victoria.
But the site is now earmarked for the construction of a government-run desalination plant meant to supply 39.6 billion gallons (150 billion liters) of drinking water a year to the state's capital city.
Australia is in the midst of a record drought, and the plant would supply much needed freshwater to one of the country's most populated regions.
The Powlett River fossils, which scientists have known about for many years, lie in the path of the inlet and outlet pipes for the proposed facility.
Local newspapers last week predicted delays and budget blowouts amid calls for an inquiry into the impact of construction on the fossil-rich region.
"It's like boring through the tombs of the ancient emperors in Egypt or drilling holes through the terra-cotta warriors in China after they had been discovered," Liberal MP Ken Smith told The Australian newspaper.
Not an Emergency
Despite the media outcry, Australian water minister Tim Holding told the Herald-Sun newspaper last week that the remains would not be at risk.
"The existence of these fossilized remains in no way impacts on the ability of us to construct or operate a desalination plant on the site," Holding said.
"These fossilized remains exist in the first 10 meters [33 feet] of the beachfront and it's proposed that our inflow and outflow pipes will be placed well below that."
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