A South Gippsland port facility touted to unlock Gippsland’s potential as a coal exporting region is only months away from first stage construction completion.
However, according to the developer, after 15 years in development, further upgrading to facilitate large scale freight and commodity exports from Port Anthony at Barry’s Beach, west of Port Welshpool, was still years away.
Due for completion in May, the ‘open access’ bulk loading facility will see a wharf, hardstand area and crane pad servicing the Bass Strait oil and gas sector, along with other heavy loading requirements for private contracts.
However port manager Ben Anthony said the facility’s capabilities were restricted by port size and boat vessel draught restrictions in Corner Inlet, which he said allowed access of up to 12,000-tonne vessels, well below the requirements of major export ventures.
Mr Anthony said future progression onto ‘stage two’ of development, which could include the dredging of Corner Inlet heads to allow large freight vessels into the port, would be subject to years of environmental impact studies, assessing demand of the port services, transport route capabilities and private investment.
“It will be a period of basically assessing the functional operation of the facility; assessing the commerciality of it, and actually having some money to go ahead; we’ve been at it for 13 years – we need to save some money,” Mr Anthony said.
Mr Anthony said when the State Government’s $2 million Regional Development Grant for stage one development was announced in September last year, enquiries into the facility’s capabilities had “snowballed”.
He said two “emerging industry” companies in the Latrobe Valley had been contracted to use the port so far, while there had been serious interest from “another couple”.
This comes after a report in The Age yesterday quoted brown coal technology developer Australian Energy Company Limited chairman Allan Blood as saying the private sector could “foot the entire bill” for the facility.
Mr Blood said “several infrastructure funds and global groups” had expressed interest to finance, build and operate the facility.
Mr Anthony said after working on the project for over a decade, he would welcome any support and industry participation which was supportive of the development.
However, it is believed the isolated location of the port in relation to the Latrobe Valley – on the other side of the Strzelecki ranges – remains a significant challenge for the project’s ability to attract potential emerging Latrobe Valley export industries.
Latrobe City mayor Ed Vermeulen told The Express last week the absence of a direct railway line and the need for improved road access, meant lobbying for improved highway infrastructure would become part of a long-term economic approach.
VicRoads regional director Patricia Liew said a working group had been established to consider the planned and required infrastructure.
Ms Liew confirmed the Hyland Highway was a potential heavy vehicle route, and was already utilised by dairy and logging vehicles; however she said there were “a number of options” and a route had not yet been confirmed.
The Express understands a rail route across the Strzelecki Ranges and a detour towards Sale to link up with the South Gippsland Highway are among options being considered.