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IMPACT ON JOBS AND THE ECONOMY IN MANJIMUP AND PEMBERTON

The Development Application made to the Shire of Manjimup for the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill provides employment details for the project on page 51:

Table 3.10 Employment Details

Employment position  Approx employment number
Power plant operations 20 persons
Harvesting operations 19 persons
Haulage operations 10 persons
Total  49 persons

A project of this nature, with substantial impacts on public interests and private interests beyond the commercial interests of the proponent must be evaluated in full context, which isn't done in the Development Application. There is no attempt to put the 49 jobs for the proposed project in the context of, for example, a recent study by the Pemberton Wine Region Association showing 600 persons employed in viticulture and the wine industry alone. Manjimup and Pemberton virtually have full employment now, and rely upon residents of Bridgetown to fill many employment positions. Other employment of a more temporary nature relies upon visiting contractors and others, including 'backpackers', often linked to ecotourism. Below, some of the immediate, intermediate and long term impacts on jobs and the regional economy are hypothesised in scenarios that can be reasonably foreseen, and that the 'thrilled' Shire of Manjimup should have reasonably foreseen. The Shire of Manjimup made no submission to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on the scoping document published by the proponents of the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill in November 2007 for the forthcoming Public Environmental Review. This a serious omission by the Shire, as input from relevant local government is crucial to the EPA, based in Perth, appreciating potential impacts on jobs and the economy within the jurisdiction of the local government (Shire of Manjimup, in this instance).

UPDATE September 2009: The Shire of Manjimup and the Minister for Environment have approved the project. However, with the financial collapse of Babcock and Brown Limited the approved project may be for sale to a gullible purchaser. BUYER BEWARE: the only biomass power station in Australia, at Rocky Point in Queensland, constructed by Stanwell Corporation for $50 million in 2001, was sold to Babcock and Brown and others in May 2006 for $5.1 million. Thus the first and last biomass power plant in Australia lost 90% of its value in just five years. They are dud investments, but with a 'cargo cult' like following by the wood industry and truckers.

Families and businesses of Manjimup and Pemberton please consider these questions:

Will an additional 380,000 tonnes of wood heavy-haulage on the South West Highway for the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill further reduce safety on the highway for your family?  Y N
Will the additional wood heavy-haulage on the South West Highway for the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill reduce the rate of return visits for tourists? Y N
Will the additional wood heavy-haulage on the South West Highway for the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill reduce numbers of shoppers from Bridgetown travelling to Manjimup and Pemberton to shop and dine? Y N
Will the additional wood heavy-haulage on the South West Highway for the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill indirectly encourage retail growth in Bridgetown, at the expense of Manjimup? Y N
Will emissions from a biomass power plant burning 380,000 tonnes of wood adversely affect the health of children suffering from asthma in rural communities close to the plant? Y N
Will a biomass power plant located in the heart of prime and productive agricultural land threaten the 'clean and green' status and image of those agribusiness, and food quality certification? Y N
Will a biomass power plant located in the heart of prime and productive agricultural land, interrupt and deter future investment in agribusiness on that land, and affect suppliers to the sector? Y N
Will a biomass power plant located in the heart of prime and productive agricultural land, reduce the value of the land ('buyer beware')? Y N
Should the Shire of Manjimup have considered these questions before attracting the Biomass Power Plant to Diamond Mill, and publicising they were 'thrilled' to have done so? Y N
Should the Shire of Manjimup have made a submission to the EPA on the scoping document published by the proponents of the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill in November 2007 for the forthcoming Public Environmental Review, and suggested to the EPA these questions be included in the scope of the Public Environmental Review? Y N

(A ) Immediate Impacts on Jobs and the Economy of Manjimup and Pemberton while Biomass Power Plant Development Awaits Approval (until 2010)

Positive: It is unlikely there will be any immediate new project related jobs in the region while the project is under consideration by the Shire of Manjimup and State Government, with the exception of a project community liaison person.
Negative: Landowners in Middlesex, Eastbrook, Jardee and Seven Day Road will withdraw from further investment in development of their agribusinesses, prudently adopting a 'wait and see' attitude in regard to whether the project will proceed. This will be significant and will immediately impact suppliers to this sector, especially in the town of Manjimup. Potential purchasers of properties in the Middlesex, Eastbrook, Jardee and Seven Day Road areas will 'wait and see', and perhaps be lost as new investors and residents. This appropriately cautious 'wait and see' may also extend to potential investors and new residents beyond the area of the four communities. This could especially apply to tourism related investment, and to new 'tree change' settlers. Bridgetown, having rejected the proposed biomass power plant will be keen  to fill this gap, attracting new residents to Bridgetown and investors in retail services. Confident investors in new retail businesses in Bridgetown intelligently foresee that 380,000 tonnes of additional heavy-haulage on the South West Highway for the Biomass Power Plant at Diamond Mill will deter Bridgetown residents from traveling to Manjimup to shop. It will be safer for them to shop in Bridgetown. As the controversy surrounding the proposed biomass power plant increases, especially in response to foreseeable impacts on State Forests, invoking involvement of state and possibly national conservation groups, relevant parties may need to increase expenditure in 2008/2009 on promotions of Karri forest related tourism, or might withdraw from such expenditure promoting the region, foreseeing what lies ahead. Some people in Perth, picking up the news stories, think the 380,000 tonne increase in heavy-haulage is already on the South West Highway, and the power plant is already running, and opt to holiday elsewhere. A view by Ministers and Government agencies, perhaps some may regard as cynical, but certainly plausible, is that the Shire of Manjimup has failed to move ahead after the Gallop Government restrained the notorious 'Marri Woodchip Project', returning to it's old ways influenced by those who see the Karri, Jarrah and Marri forest only as wood! This view damaged prospects of establishing the Donnelly River Slide tourism icon with State and Commonwealth funds. The controversy surrounding the project divides the communities of Manjimup and Pemberton, with those businesses offering petitions in favour of the project noted by families and other businesses concerned about the effects on their health, safety on South West Highway, agriculture and tourism. A divided community and local economy loses productivity as the controversy continues.

While the immediate impact period may run for over 12 months, it could extend beyond 2009 with appeals, injunctions and other actions taken by families and businesses protecting their pre-existing and future interests. The 'wait and see' attitude in regard to further investment in agriculture, land/homes and tourism will persist during construction and well into the approximately two year duration intermediate phase.
 

There is too much at risk for too many families and businesses. The Biomass Power Plant will run for 25 years. We must not be complacent, we must act now.

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