BY ALEX BAINBRIDGE
HOBART The controversial Southwood woodchip mill proposal was approved by Tasmania's Resource Planning and Development Commission on July 3.
Despite onerous conditions imposed by the commission, Labor Premier Jim Bacon's government has announced that the project will go ahead.
The major restriction imposed by the commission is the complete rejection of the proposed transport route through the township of Ranelagh. This is a significant setback for Southwood and is the second time that a new transport route has been knocked on the head.
Originally, the woodchips produced by Southwood were to be exported from a port at Electrona. The government was forced to abandon using Electrona for the project due to strong community opposition, including from the fish farming industry which would have been adversely affected.
Since the commission's announcement, the government has declared that it will use an upgraded Plenty Link Road to transport the woodchips. Throughout the campaign to oppose the transport route through Ranelagh, Forestry Tasmania argued that the Plenty Link Road could not be considered because of its altitude and steepness. Activists believe that the cost of upgrading the road will be considerable and could scuttle the project.
The second major set of conditions imposed by the commission relates to the wood-fired power station that is part of the Southwood proposal. The commission mandated further investigations of the environmental impact of the proposed station.
Campaign activist Neil Cremasco argues that this is "tantamount to [sending the power station aspect of Southwood] back to the drawing board".
Anti-Southwood campaigner Glenn Shields told Green Left Weekly that he "wouldn't be surprised if the conditions imposed by the commission [in relation to the power station], put it beyond the reach of any feasibility". Even the commission's report broached the possibility that the power station may not proceed.
Cremasco believes that the government will talk confidently about Southwood until after the July 20 election but then "discover" that it is not financially viable and allow the project to die a quiet death while blaming its demise on environmentalists. Alternatively, that the government will plough on with the project and inject whatever subsidies are required.
Shields, who is also the Socialist Alliance candidate in the seat of Franklin, believes that the conditions imposed by the commission are a response to the concerns raised opponents of the project. He noted that Forestry Tasmania "has been rather quiet since the report was released". Nevertheless, he believes that deputy premier and forestry minister Paul Lennon will push for Southwood to go ahead regardless.
Shields has raised the concern that the commission has approved the amendment to the Huon Planning Scheme that rezoned the Southwood site for industrial usage. Even if Southwood proves to be unviable, the site is adjacent to rich mineral deposits in the nearby high-conservation value Weld Valley area.
Shields has called on people to vote for the Socialist Alliance and give their preferences to the Greens in the July 20 state election as the best way to use their vote to protest Southwood. "But even more importantly we should remember that it is grassroots campaigning that stopped Electrona, stopped the Ranelagh route and has put these conditions on the wood-fired power station. As long as Southwood is on the agenda, we must maintain the grassroots campaign."
From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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