Tumby Bay and Lipson Cove locals speak against Free Eyre's Port Spencer project proposal

An artist's rendition of the Port Spencer project, located between Rogers Beach and Lipson Cove, about 10 kilometres north of Tumby Bay.
An artist's rendition of the Port Spencer project, located between Rogers Beach and Lipson Cove, about 10 kilometres north of Tumby Bay.

Opposition to the Port Spencer project proposal by Free Eyre is gathering in the form of a local petition to the state government and statements from some local progress associations in the Tumby Bay District Council area.

Free Eyre proposed the Port Spencer grain-only port project following Centrex Metals' decision to sell its iron ore assets on the Eyre Peninsula in 2018.

After land was purchased for the port from Centrex Metals in June 2019, existing approvals were transferred but certain approvals needed amending to suit a grain-only facility.

Locals have raised environmental concerns due to the location near Lipson Cove, about 10 kilometres north of Tumby Bay, due to the wildlife on Lipson Island and fears of beach and campground destruction.

However Free Eyre chairman John Crosby said the position between Rogers Beach and Lipson Cove meant they would not interfere with either beach, and he was hopeful some construction would begin in June.

"We do not have any impact on Lipson Cove beach or Rogers Beach because we are on the piece of headland between the two," he said.

"Every endeavour is being made, and we're required by the EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) and DEW (Department for Environment and Water) not to interfere with either beach."

Every endeavour is being made, and we're required by the EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) and DEW (Department for Environment and Water) not to interfere with either beach.

Free Eyre chairman John Crosby

Tumby Bay Progress Association, which stated its opposition to the project at a meeting on Wednesday, has written a letter to the local council and also wants to present a joint statement with other local progress associations once they have all had meetings.

Association president and local farmer Dion LeBrun said there was excess capacity for grain in the three ports on the Eyre Peninsula already, so a multi-commodity port like the proposal at Cape Hardy, within 10 kilometres of the Port Spencer project, made more sense.

"With Port Lincoln, Thevenard and now Lucky Bay, we don't even use 50 per cent of the capacity (for port shipping of grain)," he said.

"This clearly demonstrates why Regional Development (EP) and the (EP) LGA only support a multi-commodity port, and this will be the position of (Tumby Bay) Progress.

"We're fully in support of development for our district, as long as it's in the right place and is of real benefit to the wider community and the agriculture industry."

Mr LeBrun organised a grower meeting in March in Cummins, of which the majority of attendants appeared to throw support behind the Cape Hardy proposal.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone, who was present at the meeting, said at the time he would approach Grain Producers SA to see if they would be willing to host a vote to gauge community support behind either port proposal.

However, GPSA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said they instead believed Infrastructure SA's approach was "best placed" to assess the two proposals.

"As noted by ISA in its recently-released 20-year State Infrastructure Strategy, it will fall to the market to determine if there are opportunities for lower capital cost port solutions to facilitate grain export," she said.

Ungarra Progress Association president Sue Liddicoat said members had come to the unanimous decision to oppose the Port Spencer project, and they were writing a letter to the Tumby Bay District Council.

"We're hoping that maybe all the progress associations will come on board - the progress associations are basically the voice of each community," she said.

"We understand that we need a port there somewhere but that one between Lipson Cove and Rogers Beach is not the best option."

She said they were citing the social, tourism, and environmental impacts the port would have on the area.

"I camp there probably at least four or five weeks of the year, and it would just be devastating to have a port right there," said Mrs Liddicoat.

"It was only a week ago that I realised how close to Lipson Cove it is, I had no idea."

Lipson Progress Association president Christian Kotz said while they could not meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he had reached out to members to gauge their support for the project.

"At the moment I'm just surveying my association asking if they feel a) well informed on this situation and b) what's their stance, so we can come together as an association and say we are opposed to it, or whatever comes to majority," he said.

"At the moment it's looking like the majority are opposed.

"Lipson Cove is a pristine bit of land and we do benefit from the campers and the travellers through, their cans and bottles we get to recycle.

"I can imagine if the area was heavily trafficked, noises of shipping...and there's other concerns like the hooded plovers that are supposed to be nesting in that area and we've obviously got Lipson Island that should be a protected area so from what we understand the environmental impact is pretty up there.

"But being a private enterprise, it all sounds pretty green lit and that there's not much that can be done."

The red pin shows the location of the proposed Free Eyre Port Spencer site. Image: Google Maps.

The red pin shows the location of the proposed Free Eyre Port Spencer site. Image: Google Maps.

Tumby Bay local David Fleming said he felt misled about the location of the port.

"I think that we have been misguided in the way that they've called the port Port Spencer, which is not Sheep Hill, but it's not called Rogers Beach or Lipson Cove, where it is," he said.

He said the location of the port proposal was ambiguous, and that "without a doubt" people confused it with the Cape Hardy project.

"While I've been hearing about developments of Port Spencer, you can't help but think it's somewhere else rather than in your own backyard," he said.

"There's nothing by that name that goes around here...so when I found out about where exactly the site was, I was completely concerned about it because it is right there and it's going to...make an absolute eyesore from Lipson Cove."

Tumby Bay councillor Ricky Trenberth said council had passed a motion supporting the Cape Hardy project, as had the EP Local Government Association and the federal government, but that he did not know of any public support for Port Spencer.

"From what I've heard the main business concern seems to be that we have too many ports as it is for it to be economically viable, so they appear to be building a port on behalf of an industry that doesn't really want or support it," he said.

From what I've heard the main business concern seems to be that we have too many ports as it is for it to be economically viable, so they appear to be building a port on behalf of an industry that doesn't really want or support it.

Tumby Bay councillor Ricky Trenberth

"The rest of the community don't want the Rogers Beach/Lipson Cove area destroyed."

Mr Trenberth said the Lipson Cove campground had also been earmarked by Regional Development Australia Eyre Peninsula to potentially receive upgrades for tourism development.

An online petition to oppose the port, addressed to Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Stephan Knoll, has gained more than 2200 signatures since it began last week.

Mr Crosby said he did not understand why a petition had been organised now, describing it as a "very late run".

"I am really surprised that they might run a petition at this stage, we've been very open about what our proposal has been since we bought the property in June last year," he said.

"We've been fairly clear that we're going to use the Lipson Cove road, and that sort of pinpoints it pretty heavily to where it is.

"We'd prefer a few more people on Eyre Peninsula to be positive, I think that's a fair call, but it's our job to make sure people know precisely what we're doing and therefore can see the value in it."

Mr Crosby said negotiations between the EPA, DEW, and Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure was happening and they hoped to be "signed off by the regulatory process" so they could still meet the target of opening for harvest in 2021.

"We do intend to make some pretty big statements and have some reasonably physical sort of events happening during June (2020)," he said.