Missing: Geraldton port levies

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

The grains industry is concerned Mid West growers may be paying higher port levy rates than charged for other commodities.

The current port levy charge is $2.70 a tonne and is designed to help the operator pay back a $103 million State Government loan.

If all port users had been charged the equivalent rate, takings from the levy should be $49 million.

However, Geraldton Port operator Mid West Ports ship-loaded a record 18 million tonnes of grain through the port but collected only $33 million in levies, which equates to a $16 million shortfall.

A spokeswoman for CBH, which ships more than half of the port's annual grain tonnage each year, said it was keen for MWP to explain the discrepancy.

The port predominantly ships iron ore but also loads grain, minerals, oil and livestock.

Levies have been charged to port users since an upgrade to deepen the waters was undertaken in 2002 to enable Panamax-sized grain carrying vessels into the harbour.

Under the terms of the 30-year loan the debt repayment would accelerate as port volumes increased over time.

MWP charges the money for the work to the exporter as part of the port charges which, in the case of CBH, will be deducted from the price offered to growers in the Geraldton zone.

_Countryman _ also reported last week only $35 million of the loan to the State Government had been paid off despite record tonnages.

This year users of the port will have so far paid $175 million in levies for the work, and by next they will have paid $200 million.

It is also estimated if the levies were charged for 30 years, the cost would reach $500 million.

Mid West Ports chief executive Peter Klein said the length of the loan was tied to iron ore.

"The exact date of repayment will depend heavily on the port's future iron ore export performance," he said. "The debt is serviced by a port enhancement charge with proceeds allocated in accordance with government policy as disclosed in the port authority's annual report.

"The debt was initially scheduled for repayment over 30 years, but the subsequent emergence of stronger than forecast iron ore exports will result in the debt being repaid early."

Mr Klein also said the capital required to carry-out the port deepening work was 100 per cent debt funded.

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