FREE Eyre chairman John Crosby is confident the construction of Port Spencer will go ahead, despite recent community backlash against the project and delays in the approval process.
Mr Crosby said Free Eyre's subsidiary company Peninsula Ports was only waiting on approvals from state government departments and the sign-off by Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll before construction would start at the 140-hectare Sheep Hill site, which was purchased a year ago for $1.4 million.
"It is frustrating it is taking so long to get it through the governmental process, as public submissions on the Public Environmental Report closed at the end of February," he said.
"There was only 10 submissions.
"The three-month delay means we have to further compress our schedule, mainly the planning process, but we will still be ready by the 2021 harvest.
"As soon as we get ministerial consent, we are ready to go."
This is despite a recent 2363-supporter Save Lipson Cove! Stop the Port! petition against the proposed development; calls for a survey, at least among Free Eyre shareholders, to gauge interest in the grain-only port; and the well-attended farmer meeting at Cummins in March, which indicated more support for the nearby Cape Hardy port proposal.
"The recent backlash will not have any influence on our planning process and I hope it won't have any impact on the ministerial process," Mr Crosby said.
"We are a private enterprise venture.
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"And it is too late to have a shareholder vote, we have already spent $8.3 million.
"It is concerning there are locals that don't see the value in what we are doing and I understand that they have an emotional connection to parts of the coast nearby.
"But we are not interfering with any major beach - the government wouldn't allow it anyway.
"We are confident our site is the most cost-effective and we are confident this will be completed.
"We have strong grower commitments of putting grain through the site, enough to make the site profitable, which is why we are not that concerned about the current angst because we know there is a lot of quiet support out there."
The Port Spencer site will have an 800,000-tonne grain capacity.
Yes there may be enough capacity already on the EP, but there isn't sufficient capacity in Port Lincoln to hit the premium markets from December through to April.
Mr Crosby said they would need much less than half of that to be profitable.
"Grain ports are very high capitally-intensive institutions with relatively low running costs," he said.
"Our site will feature the latest technology, which will make running costs even cheaper.
"Yes there may be enough capacity already on the EP, but there isn't sufficient capacity in Port Lincoln to hit the premium markets from December through to April.
"There is an extra amount of money that can be made by having shipping slots available then, and that is what we are targeting - capacity when we need it.
"There is also a freight advantage for 800,000t if they come to us."
Peninsula Ports recently welcomed new chief executive officer Greg Walters into its ranks, following the departure of Free Eyre CEO Mark Rodda.
Mr Crosby said Mr Walters would still have "responsibilities" within Free Eyre, particularly as Free Eyre was 100 per cent invested in Peninsula Ports.
"The Free Eyre Board will make the decision whether (Port Spencer) stays its only investment or whether it looks at other ventures in conjunction with the port," Mr Crosby said.
"But at the moment, its sole focus is the port and will be until the construction phase."
Mr Crosby still expected to start construction this month, pending ministerial consent.
Mr Knoll was contacted for comment, but did not respond before Stock Journal's deadline.
Site confusion causes angst among locals
FREE Eyre shareholders Corey and Rochelle Berryman farm at Lipson Cove, adjacent to the proposed Port Spencer site and have been campaigning against the development for a decade.
Ms Berryman set-up the Save Lipson Cove Facebook page back then and was recently part of the Save Lipson Cove! Stop the Port! petition.
She has also written to Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll expressing her concerns.
"Free Eyre continually states they have 'the support of 475 family farmer shareholders', but after many recent discussions with other local farmers, we believe this to be untrue," she wrote.
"The community had no idea of the proximity to Lipson Cove due to the use of unfamiliar names and the two port proposals in the works, so there has been a lot of confusion and assumption that Port Spencer is located further north.
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"And now with Free Eyre announcing site works and blasting could begin in the coming months, the community is even more concerned.
"Along with this location being a better choice environmentally, the project has a much larger area for expansion, which could bring some exciting new opportunities for our local economy, such as the proposed hydrogen export facility already planned, and other market options for farmers, such as ammonia, container import/export shipping and new bulk grain shipping options for legumes."
Through her various community and agricultural roles, Ungarra farmer Karen Baines said she had also found minimal support for Port Spencer over the past six months.
"Many people have only just realised where Port Spencer is," she said.
"To locals it's called Lipson Cove, the previous owners were calling it Sheep Hill and now it's being called Port Spencer.
"Free Eyre were once tied up with Iron Road, who are a part of the Cape Hardy proposal, so many had assumed that's where the Free Eyre port was.
"I think the penny has only just dropped, particularly after the community meeting at Cummins in March, that the new port site is actually adjacent to Lipson Cove.
"If the majority of people wanted Port Spencer, then I would accept that, but it just doesn't seem the case.
"I wish someone would do a survey, so then we would really know if there is majority support for it or not."
Ms Baines has also sent a letter to Mr Knoll, backing the Cape Hardy multi-commodity port proposal.
"Why ruin a beautiful holiday destination like Lipson Cove, especially when there is a widely-accepted alternate site?" she said.
"We need to start thinking about life after Port Lincoln, the truck traffic through the main business district is not ideal, car drivers don't always navigate this well, and there is really no workable solution for an eastern approach detour.
"If we do build a new southern port, shouldn't it be in the right spot?
"And it's not just the environmental and social reasons why that site is not appropriate - it lacks options for east-west heavy vehicle corridors and there have been questions raised over the viability of a grain-only port as we look to the future".
Ms Baines encouraged those concerned to keep sending letters to Mr Knoll.
"People shouldn't feel this is done and dusted," she said.
"It is with the government now, but this is also up to the 475 Free Eyre shareholders. If they don't want a port in this location, they really need to speak up now so Free Eyre can do what's best for the whole of EP."
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