Image for Waterloo Bay: The Great Deceit

*Pics: : of Surges Point, from Bob Hawkins’ backyard ...

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Huon Valley Guessing Games Two years in its making, what looks like a great deceit has been revealing itself in recent weeks. Now, whether or not the people of the Huon Valley approve, it is likely that a substantial piece of their public property — a strip of pristine Huon riverfront Crown land — is about to be handed to the control of a man with a highly debatable “vision”. Suddenly, Surges Point on Waterloo Bay has become engulfed in a stench that is typical of Tasmanian politics.

Project engineer Dennis Bewsher will, I believe, soon be granted a permit to develop a hugely inappropriate industrial venture (totally unsupported by a business plan) on Crown land at Surges Point.

This would, I feel sure, eventually involve the state in yet another financial and economically disastrous business venture that would be likely to hugely reward a tiny handful of people and yet, in the longer term, cost the public purse millions of dollars.

Today, the Tasmanian Planning Commission (TPC) begins its hearing of the Bewsher application, its finding to be announced within a couple of months.

The Bewsher project comprises a bulk-loading facility at Surges Point to service four 100m x 25m x 7m barges that would take their 10,000-tonne cargoes down the Huon to somewhere off Southport, where they would be loaded onto an ocean-going vessel ( see http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/more-pie-in-the-sky-in-the-huon/ and http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/huon-valley-guessing-games-the-waterloo-bay-fiasco/ ).

The proposed project rings loud with echoes of the since-evaporated Bell Bay pulp-mill fantasy (a miserable episode of state government intervention — including the sidelining of the TPC’s predecessor and the passing of enabling legislation — that probably hastened the demise of the Gunns corporation); Forestry Tasmania’s recurring huge losses of public money; and MIS (managed-investment scheme) disasters that devastated the superannuation of gullible small-time investors duped by fund managers aided and abetted at federal and state levels.

Last October, the Bewsher vision came into public view in the form of applications for an amendment to the Esperance Planning Scheme to allow a riverfront Crown land lease at Surges Point, and for permission to build the bulk-loading facility. Huon Valley Council (HVC), at its October meeting, the last to be presided over by then-mayor (and MLC) Robert Armstrong, approved for public scrutiny “Draft section 34A combined planning scheme amendment and development application — DA-65/2014 and PSA-1/2014”.

Because of the prospect of seriously big industrial development and environmental destruction along an otherwise bucolic and bush stretch of the Huon, the news of the applications was met with incredulity by the people of the valley, especially those living near Surges Point and across the river. (This writer is one of those across the river, and, therefore, an interested and objecting party.)

Soon afterwards, Bewsher invited interested parties to talk about his vision at Surges Point Community Hall. We talked outside the hall, Bewsher coming across as an affable bloke with a plan to sell. Some might even have thought him a little naive in his dreamings. It sounded like fantasy talk, and obviously unviable. But enough was said, and not said, for him to be asked if there was a “hidden agenda” behind his vision. He reassured the 50 or so of us present that there definitely was no hidden agenda.

What we didn’t know when we met Bewsher that day was that he had talked to Huon Valley councillors about his idea some 18 months earlier (back in the days of the Giddings Labor state government). Why we hadn’t been told earlier of Bewsher’s meeting with council could have been because some councillors felt they had been fed yet another nonsense fantasy that would “save the valley’s economy”; or, perhaps, because other councillors knew that a plan, at a loftier political level and on a long timeline, was already in the works.

With so few philosophical differences between the big parties, it’s likely Bewsher’s heart didn’t skip a beat when Labor’s Lara Giddings handed over to the Liberals’ Will Hodgman.

While the subsequent 21-day HVC public consultation was in process (there were to be 188 representations against the Bewsher vision, about 15 for), it was all disarming vagueness on the part of the Hodgman team. Government signals — not surprisingly coming mostly from Resources Minister Paul Harriss (MP for the Franklin lower house electorate, which includes the Huon region) — were that it had no interest in anything like a bulk-handling export facility down the Huon; Macquarie Wharf or Triabunna were the more preferred options for export facilities; that the Bewsher project was entirely of his own dreaming . . .

Yet, suddenly, on the eve of the TPC’s deliberation on the Bewsher case (May 5-8), all sorts of mixed-message noises were coming from government and other sources. Examples:

• Tasmania doesn’t have a southern cargo export facility
• Forestry Tasmania (FT) isn’t going to get any more public funding
• FT must get its financial affairs in order by selling off plantation timber
• FT’s timber sales must be restricted to supplies to the local milling industry
• “Private business would be invited to submit expressions of interest in a southern woodchip export or other residues option (Mercury, April 30)”
• The most likely buyer of FT plantation timber says it wants to export it to northern Asia (Japan and China) but is not interested in supplying a local pulp mill
• And — the big one — (also Mercury, April 30) says that, although Macquarie Wharf in Hobart is still the preferred option for the export of wood products in southern Tasmania, “Mr Harriss has left the door open to private operators to come up with other solutions”.

It’s all beginning to look cleverly orchestrated.

So the stage is set for the showdown on the future of Surges Point. For too long, I was uncharacteristically optimistic that both the law according to LUPAA (Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993) and sheer economic good sense made a proposal such as Bewsher’s utterly unviable. The act does not support it; Bewsher claims he has spent all his money on planning the project; his application does not contain a business plan; he says he has no backers to construct the bulk-handling export facility; he has no customers lined up to pay him to take product in his barges from Surges Point; and he has no overseas customers to pay him to load any such product onto ocean-going vessels somewhere off Southport.

Something else to consider: why has Bewsher made it known that he will represent himself at the TPC hearing? Is it that, having spent all his money, he is into serious cost-cutting or unsure of his chances? That’s not likely. Is he so confident of success that he believes he doesn’t need legal representation? Now, that could be more like it.

On January 27, on Tasmanian Times, I wrote: “Happily, the fate of the Bewsher project does not lie in the hands of Huon Valley Council. The ultimate umpire is the Tasmanian Planning Commission. Once the valley’s council has chosen its position, the TPC, sometime soon I imagine, will assess all aspects of the proposal and judge its merits.”

Along with many words I have written on this topic, I’m thinking now I may have to eat a lot of them. Instinct tells me that the decision on the Bewsher vision (if, in fact, it is entirely his alone) may no longer rest in the hands of the TPC. So pessimistic have I become, I’m ready to wager that Bewsher will get his way. Be prepared to defend how your taxpayers’ dollars are spent.

• mr t, in Comments: Oh, for the state government to have a policy beyond forestry and firearms. We have had earnest debate by a one eyed bunch of pseudo independents in the LC about mandatory sentencing for forest protestors, a kangaroo court inquiry into the sale of Triabunna, an attempt to scale back WH listing and the intention to log and mine WHA (as well as the reversal of protecting HCV forests to allow “special timber” extraction. The government has retrenched 800 employees from services except the police where Tasmania has had falling crime rates. We now have guns in the hands of 14 yo youth (remember Mr Hidding wanted 12 yo with guns when he was Opposition leader). God help us.

David Hamilton: Ling Siding Refurbishment Project Set to Start The Chairman of Dorset Renewable Industries, David Hamilton, today announced that they (DRI) had purchased the former Gunns’ site at Ling Siding.

• Bob Hawkins, in Comments: Phew, just got home from the now-aborted four-day TPC hearing. It’s all too complicated for me to try to explain. But Chris Devenish, a leading light in the anti-Bewsher project team (and, like me, a nimby), has had a shot at explaining what happened this morning. The hearing, including a half-hour adjournment at about 9.50am, was terminated at about 10.50, the fate of the entire issue up in the air. This is what Chris had to say in a quick note to his fellow team members ...

YESTERDAY on Tasmanian Times ...

Gwenda Sheridan: The Waterloo Bay proposal and the Southwood site ...