Delay hampers expansion plan

NATHAN DYERCountryman

The $220 million expansion of the Ord River project will take twice as long as planned because of delays getting Federal environmental approval.

Less than five months from the project deadline announced by Premier Colin Barnett in 2008, the flagship Royalties for Regions project is yet to get the nod from Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.

The plan to boost the Ord irrigation scheme from 14,000 to 22,000 hectares was originally to be completed this year. That was extended to December next year.

Project director Peter Stubbs said though he was confident it would get full approval this month, the delays meant work was likely to continue well into 2013.

He said approval for some preliminary works was granted this week and the Federal Government indicated it would make a final decision on the project by next Saturday.

“We don’t have any concerns there will be any deal breakers at this stage, ” Mr Stubbs said.

The Federal Government raised questions about the impact on threatened species, including the northern quoll and Gouldian finch.

The delay means a contract for stage two, to prepare land for sale, remains to be signed. However, Mr Stubbs said that could happen quickly after environmental approval and 8000ha could go on sale as early as next month.

Stage one work on roads and irrigation channels, due to be finished last December, was expected to be ready in October.

Mr Stubbs said negotiations with contractor Moonamang — a joint venture between Leighton Contractors and Indigenous Business Australia — over cost blowouts in phase one had been resolved but the outcome was confidential.

Mr Stubbs said there had been strong interest in new Ord agricultural land from corporate groups.

Kununurra-based Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation chairman Teddy Carlton said traditional owners were concerned about the delays holding up benefits to local Aboriginals. Under a native title deal, traditional owners have first option to buy 5 per cent of the land.

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