There was an overwhelming sense of relief in George Town on Thursday when the sale of the TEMCO manganese smelter was announced, but workers estimate up to $60 million in works could be needed at the site to ensure its future viability.
The Coordinator-General had been working with GFG Alliance and South32 "for a long period of time", however the confidentiality of the discussions meant uncertainty for workers, their families and the wider community.
It also meant about 50 staff members with transferable skills had left TEMCO in the past 15 months, workers told The Examiner, and they detailed some of the immediate works that would be needed at the Bell Bay site.
These included up to $40 million to upgrade the furnaces, one of which has been turned off and another which was overdue for upgrades, along with about $15 million to fix the switchyard and $7 million for the wharf crane.
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One worker, who has been at TEMCO for more than 25 years, said they would be more comfortable once they heard commitments from new owner, billionaire Sanjeev Gupta, to finance these upgrades similar to what he did with Whyalla's steelworks.
"Hopefully he brings what he brought to Whyalla to Tasmania," he said.
"We still have about 12 months of uncertainty about what happens from here, and it's six months before Gupta takes over so we'll have that uncertainty in the meantime.
"If they could dump some money into the site, that would give us confidence. It's a great announcement for the community though."
Workers said they had a bit of "battle fatigue" given TEMCO had changed hands several times since 2000, including the merger of BHP and Billiton.
The uncertainty of the past 12 months had meant maintenance work had been further delayed, impacting the productivity of the site.
Sigh of relief for George Town and wider community
Julie Lynch, whose son-in-law works at the TEMCO smelter, said it had been a somewhat difficult couple of years as they waited for an announcement.
"It's put your life on hold for that time, not really knowing what was going to happen, so to have that decision announced is just amazing," she said.
"Now they can get on with their lives.
"They have two young children and were wanting to build a house, so it's given more certainty. The workers will also be able to spend more in the community, it's great news for so many people."
The Bell Bay Advanced Manufacturing Zone leadership was eager to point out the positive response from down the supply chain, including smaller engineering firms in the area.
The flow-on effects reached the main street of George Town, including Cafe 1069, which regularly provides large food orders to the TEMCO smelter.
Cafe owner Michael Bell said it would be a boost for the town.
"It'll be a positive outcome for my cafe, that's for sure," he said.
"We get a lot of orders from TEMCO, sometimes they order 20 to 30 pizzas at a time. It'll also keep more employment in the town, and helps to keep that positive vibe in the community.
"I've got a few good mates who work there and they've been in limbo for quite a while, so I reckon they'll be very happy today."
George Town looks to the future
Customers coming and going at George Town Newsagency were happily discussing the announcement on Thursday morning, including a former TEMCO worker who was happy to hear the site would not be mothballed.
Newsagency manager Sue Sherriff said it was the latest positive news to come out of the town, which recently announced the start of construction of mountain bike trails.
She said while it was important to cater for tourism, having that industrial background provided long-term job security for the region.
"It shows how lucky the town is to have industry employment in the background, we see it as a big positive for the region as well," Ms Sherriff said.
"TEMCO and Bell Bay Aluminium - while their names may have changed - they've been there all my life. We didn't want to end up with something out there that would become an eyesore.
"We're very excited that the ongoing employment will be retained."
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