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Kangaroo Island neighbours still divided over proposed sea port

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A Kangaroo Island abalone farm has announced a million-dollar upgrade on the basis that a proposed timber export seaport 200 hundred metres away has been scrapped – despite the timber company saying its planning for the port was very much “still on track”.

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Yumbah Aquaculture yesterday announced the spend on its Smith Bay facility, ending an “investment freeze” on the basis that the port proposal was finished.

The money is to be spent on repairs and upgrades of infrastructure on the abalone farm – 20km north-west of Kingscote – including new fire prevention works and an “increased integration of assets like water storage into Country Fire Service operational plans”, it said in a statement.

Yumbah had warned as early as 2017 that a deep-sea port, planned by Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers for Smith Bay near Yumbah’s abalone farm, risked killing its entire stock and ruining its business.

The abalone producer cited the conclusions of Yumbah-commissioned marine biology consultant Dr Paul McShane as proof – although another marine biology consultant, Anthony Cheshire, commissioned by the timber company, concluded there was no good evidence for the threat.

Kangaroo Island Timber Plantations significantly altered the design of the port late last year, in an attempt to mitigate its environmental impact and Yumbah’s objections.

In December and through January, devastating bushfires swept across a large part of the island, blackening more than 200 hectares, destroying homes and killing two people.

The fire also hit more than 90 per cent of the timber company’s plantation, with varying degrees of damage.

In January, Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers spokesperson Shauna Black told ABC Radio Adelaide that the fire affected timber had to be taken to market within the next year.

Yumbah Aquaculture company director Anthony Hall said the island’s economy needed investment in the wake of the bushfires, and that Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers would not be building a port in Smith Bay.

“Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers has made it clear that KI won’t need a timber wharf for perhaps 20 years, and only then if its plantations are replanted,” Hall in a statement.

“So the risk that has paralysed our investment plans for Smith Bay has abated.

“Yumbah cannot see how Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers can finance, build or operate its KI seaport concept after the loss of its commercial plantations.

“Objectively, the claimed KI seaport business case no longer stacks up.”

Hall added that Yumbah would invest further once it receives “confirmation” that “the KI Seaport threat is formally removed”.

“If the KI Seaport proposal is taken off the table, Yumbah can contemplate a further $12 million in infrastructure, jobs and skills on KI, for KI,” said Hall.

“An early no to a KI Seaport at Smith Bay means an early, emphatic yes for Yumbah’s investment.”

But Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers managing director Keith Lamb told InDaily yesterday that there was no suggestion KI Plantation Timbers would abandon its Smith Bay port plans.

“KI Plantation Timbers welcomes any investment decision they (Yumbah) make … It’s good for us and it’s good for the island,” he said.

“(But) from our business perspective, the case (for a port) is still sound.

“We’re still on track. We’re very advanced in the permit process for the port. We own the site at Smith Bay.

“Once we’ve got the permit to proceed, then we would proceed.”

Lamb said that although there was a “small opportunity with barging”, overall “there would be no salvage (of the timber) unless there’s a port”.

“Barging can only ever take a small volume every year,” he said.

“It could take 10 to 20 years to take the timber off the island and that just wouldn’t work for us.”

Lamb told InDaily on February 11 that his company’s need for the port was now more urgent than ever, because it needed to get fire-damaged and degrading timber off the island as soon as possible.

“In the absence of a port on KI, it’s very difficult to achieve an economic outcome,” he said.

“It might take, say, 20 years to remove the wood from the island if we were to rely on the existing barging (infrastructure).

“There’s just no feasible alternative to getting the wood off the island (via a port).”

Yumbah Aquaculture operations executive David Connell told InDaily this afternoon that the port proposal seemed terminal because of the likely degradation of much of the fire-affected timber within 12 months – the earliest suggested timeframe for the construction of the port.

“You only need to be a local and drive around and have a look at the extend of this timber that’s burnt,” said Connell.

“The scale of it is enormous.

“It seems impossible … how are they going to harvest 10 years’ (harvest) worth of trees in the 12 months before they are gone?”

Connell said it was unsurprising that the timber company would forge ahead with the port plan nonetheless, given that a port in that location would be a long-term asset for the company’s shareholders.

But he argued it would be of no practical use to Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers for at least a decade.

“It’s just bizarre to me that they’re continuing,” he added.

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