BUNGE Agribusiness Australia intends running 1000 trucks a week through Collie, carrying wheat to the Port of Bunbury.
The Melbourne office of the New York-headquartered global food and agribusiness conglomerate refused to speak with the Collie Mail yesterday after Collie-Preston MLA Mick Murray and Darkan grain grower Ray Harrington raised the issue.
Both were concerned about the inevitable safety issues along the Coalfields Highway.
A Pastoralists and Graziers Association spokesman confirmed it was likely to happen but would not elaborate. “I can’t tell you much because the guys are Bunge are going fairly quiet at the moment,” he said.
At a press conference last week, Transport Minister Troy Buswell told journalists that the Bunbury Port’s future was looking bright with a $30 million grain investment by Bunge Ltd.
The company plans to build a 50,000 tonne grain storage facility and Mr Buswell has signed permits allowing 500,000 tonnes of grain
to pass through the port in the first two years, starting in 2014.
Once the two-year cap is lifted, the port is likely to double the potential export volume to one million tonnes, with grain going to key South East Asian markets.
Collie Shire president Wayne Sanford was stunned that the council had not been consulted.
The council has had concerns over many years about the Coalfields Highway’s capacity to handle heavy traffic, he said yesterday.
Cr Sanford was also concerned that the deal was apparently being done by the port, government and big business without considering the effect on Collie and other shires.
“There needs to be consultation because of the impact on the town,” Cr Sanford said,
“I am somewhat disappointed that the shire has not been part of the planning process.”
Mr Murray, the shadow south-west minister, said 1000 trucks a week meant six trucks an hour if they were running around the clock.
Mr Harrington, who emphasised he was speaking as a wheatgrower and not as West Arthur shire president, said that if a proposed night curfew was imposed on trucks passing through Collie, the daytime traffic would step up to a truck every four and a half minutes.
That was just wheat trucks and did not consider all the other truck movements, including urea trucks if the Perdaman Chemicals and Fertilisers plant is finally built.
Mr Harrington said he had been told by Agriculture Region MLC Jim Chown that the road transport of wheat to Bunbury was a “done deal” and not to waste his time fighting it.
Mr Harrington said the move would be a positive for his farm business as he was one of the closest wheat growers to the port.
However, he was daunted by the prospect of a truck every nine minutes and felt his family should not be exposed to such risks traveling the Coalfields Hifghway.
Mr Harrington estimated at least $300 million would be needed to upgrade the Coalfields Highway to a standard required to take its share of the wheat exports.
He believed some of the wheat would be trucked via Boyup Brook, 40 per cent would come through Kojonup and Bowelling , 40 per cent from Arthur River to Bowelling and 10 per cent from Williams to Collie.
Gibbs Corner would have to be realigned and a passing lane would be needed at Terry’s Hill and the road from Arthur River to Roelands would have to be upgraded, said Mr Harrington.
A merging lane would be needed at Bowelling, a passing lane at Bowelling Hill and another passing lane at the Premier Coal lookout shovel.
Merging lanes would also be needed from the Griffin and Premier mine sites, and Bluewaters traffic also had to be considered, Mr Harrington said.
He suggested that extending the railway line from Chicken Creek to Bowelling, and off loading the grain from trucks to rail, could solve a lot of the highway safety problems.
However, this was unlikely to be considered as it would involve double-handling of the grain.
Mr Harrington also suggested forcing trucks to travel to the port via Mumballup and Noggerup. Woodchip traffic on that road was down by 30 per cent so the wheat trucks could take up some of that slack.
Although that route was 30 kilometres longer than the Coalfields Highway, it was safer because it was flatter and would be quicker.