Shipping services to King Island are inadequate, and the government should consider a long-term plan to use waste rock from a nearby mine to build more breakwaters around Grassy harbour and expand the port, King Island Council mayor Marcus Blackie has said.
Murchison MLC Ruth Forrest claimed during a parliament committee hearing on Wednesday that the government has dragged its heels over a scheme to use the rock to expand the port into an all-weather harbour.
Cr Blackie said King Island is experiencing a population and economic revival, and that a bigger all-weather port capable of hosting larger ships would be needed in the long term.
But he said that long-term harbour expansion ambition has so far not been supported by government-owned TasPorts.
Responding to reports about the scheme to use waste rock from the nearby Dolphin mine to expand the Grassy port, TasPorts chief executive officer Anthony Donald said the harbour was already "fit for purpose".
"The Port of Grassy on King Island [is] fit for purpose and already has additional capacity beyond its existing freight task," Mr Donald said in emailed comments on Thursday.
The state-owned company has "no plans to extend the breakwater or establish a second port at Grassy," he said.
Cr Blackie said he was not surprised by TasPort's response.
"That is TasPort's common answer - that everything is fine on King Island. But our long-term ambition is to expand our Grassy harbour so that it can accommodate larger roll-on-roll off ships," Cr Blackie said.
"At the moment, we can't do any of that. We can only bring in small, very small vessels at the moment. It's essentially a glorified barge."
Mr Donald said TasPort's role was to facilitate trade, and long-term investment decisions need detailed analysis.
"Infrastructure investment decisions are not made without the completion of detailed work - this includes economic analysis, return on investment considerations and if they add value to the overall supply chain," he said.
He also said the fact there were weather-related restrictions on shipping services from the port was also not unusual.
"The fact that there are weather-related port parameters regarding the Port of Grassy's operations for the safety of vessels, infrastructure and people is not unique in a port context. These rules have been in place for 150 years and at no point have had any material impact on shipping operations," he said.
But Cr Blackie disagreed, saying that weather and the resulting shipping delays impact businesses such as the cheese and livestock export industries on the island.
"King Island Dairy cheese, for example, it has to be sent to the supermarket distribution hubs in Victoria and elsewhere to be distributed around Australia and internationally, and it goes the long way to be sent to the distribution hubs, and so at the end of its long passage, it might lose a week of shelf life," he said.
He said it was a similar story with the island's livestock industry.
At present, weather conditions have to be right for the ships to enter the Grassy harbour.
"So what that means is that it can often be 50-50 as to whether the ship can even make it in, which means that sometimes schedules aren't able to be achieved, and that can have flow-on ramifications of course," he said.
"At the moment, we suffer from a sub-optimal shipping service ... it's not a triangular service anymore, and the ships aren't really fit for service," he said.
He said the re-start of the Dolphin mine presented a window of opportunity to the island to expand Grassy harbour.
"They will have a surplus of rock they're digging up right next door, and it's a no brainer to eventually be able to take that that overburden of rock and then start to use it for the construction and expansion of Grassy harbour and future breakwaters," Cr Blackie said.
He said expanding the port and creating breakwaters would allow ships to dock in all weather. He also said it could allow the port to accommodate bigger ships, including larger roll-on, roll-off vessels.
"There's potential for cruise ships and navy ships as well," he said.
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