By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Territory Government has a habit of putting the cart before the horse, or rather, taxpayers’ millions before projects that are still blue-sky.
At the moment the NT is sealing 35 kilometres of the road between Alice Springs and Titjikala, at an estimated cost of $1m per kilometre, presumably to assist a salt mine and toxic waste dump planned by Tellus Holdings Ltd.
Titjikala store and pet donkey.
It has been on the drawing board for about a decade, still without any certainty about its future.
This is a reminder of the government spending of $32.2m for a road in the Top End for “Project Sea Dragon … a $1.87 billion aquaculture project, which will ultimately see the development of up to 10,000 hectares of ponds for black tiger prawns production [with a] potential to create around 1,500 jobs in northern Australia,” as the Territory Department of Industry touted a year ago.
“Ultimately” and “potential” are clearly the key words as today there isn’t much on the ground and the company “developing” Sea Dragon, Seafarms Group Limited, had a bad year on the stock exchange (see graph), as Listcorp reports.
The part-sealing of the Old South Road is no doubt being welcome by the 200 souls in Titjikala, 105 km from Alice Springs, for the Finke race spectators getting to their bush camps once a year, and the people heading for Chamber’s Pillar although the last 45 km, beyond the community, are pretty rough.
However, the tourism industry would be likely to favour putting the money into the east-west Outback Way seal, proceeding at a snail’s pace. In fact if we gave the job to the Boulia Shire Council we would get three kilometres of seal instead of one.
The proposed salt mine is some 15 kilometres south of Titjikala.
Not much is happening there so far, except talk. There is no Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the locals in place as yet.
MacDonnell Council CEO Jeff MacLoud says the project has gone off the boil. Past negotiations with traditional owners may no longer be relevant as some of them have died.
There would need to be “a re-start of the engagement process. They are re-looking at the whole model”.
We have asked Tellus, the NT Mines Minister Nicole Manison and the Central Land Council for information about the project. None have responded but we will consider for publication any statements they may supply.
Member for MacDonnell Bill Yan says: “I’ve heard snippets of things but nothing concrete at this stage.”
It appears that Tellus’s focus is very much on toxic waste disposal.
In March last year Tellus received WA Government approval for its Sandy Ridge facility to “accept, store, treat and dispose of hazardous and intractable wastes,” according to the company’s website.
The firm’s CEO Nate Smith is quoted: “Hazardous wastes previously exported can now be treated and disposed of in Australia as part of our best practice circular economy obligations.
“This will deliver a significantly lower carbon footprint than offshore forms of disposal.”
He says Sandy Ridge, 240 kilometres west north west of Kalgoorlie, is now “licensed to receive nearly all types of hazardous waste types, including waste from a broad spectrum of industrial sectors, including mining, oil and gas, contaminated site remediation and utilities.
Project Sea Dragon prawns: Government promotion.
“Sandy Ridge does not accept international waste, nuclear waste, or waste streams falling under intermediate or high-level radioactive waste designations.”
This suggests that low-level radioactive waste will be accepted.
Mr MacLoud says while Tellus appears to still intends getting the Titjikala (Chandler) project up, it seems the company is focussed on getting its WA project up and running.
He says he had contact with the company some eight months ago, when it was indicated that they are “reinvigorating” the Chandler project.
“They are re-looking at the whole model.”
There had been discussions about the company co-funding the road seal. Building a spur line to the Ghan railway had not been favoured.
Mr Yan says: “I’ve heard that Tellus are once more looking to reengage with the proposed salt mine at Titjikala. I don’t have any information on dates of timeframes, only that they are looking at it once again.”
Are there negotiations under way with the community?
“My liaison officer attended the last local authority meeting at the community and it was mentioned.”
Is Tellus paying for part of the sealing of the Old South Road?
“I don’t believe so, the recent upgrades have been funded by government,” says Mr Yan.
What, in the absence of the salt mine, is the daily traffic on that road?
“Hard to say. Tourism in that area is increasing, I believe, with the Ooraminna Homestead and Oak Valley. Parks might have numbers on visitors to Chamber’s Pillar (pictured) and Ewaninga Rock Carvings,” says Mr Yan.
“I suppose over the years I have noticed more tourists on the Old South Road. Community travel has probably increased a little with growth on communities and people accessing services in Alice.”
Do these increases in traffic warrant the extension of sealed road in the area?
“Difficult to say. The communities and outstations certainly welcome it. Of all the dirt roads in the Namatjira electorate the Old South Road is probably the roughest. The Santa Teresa road is the next worst and that community is far larger than Titjikala.”
PHOTO at top: The global waste storage company PacTec and Tellus will be using flexible packaging and container-sized waste encapsulation bags. Such packaging provides a safe alternative to heavy drums and containers, says the company. IMAGE from Tellus website.