Leaders push back over desalination location

The on-water protest at Port Lincoln on October 13, for which industry stakeholders and Mr Patrick were present. A second meeting was held there on October 15. Photo: Missing Link Media.
The on-water protest at Port Lincoln on October 13, for which industry stakeholders and Mr Patrick were present. A second meeting was held there on October 15. Photo: Missing Link Media.

There have been repeated calls for SA Water to reconsider their decision-making process following their announcement on October 15 to place a desalination plant at Billy Lights Point.

Federal senator Rex Patrick obtained documents under Freedom of Information laws from SA Water that outlined the alternate locations considered, but he described the report as "hardly impressive".

"The process of looking for a desal plant (location) started in 2008," he said.

"In 13 years they managed to come up with a nine page 'traffic light' assessment of 20 locations.

"The report seems to be a desktop review - carried out by someone in an office in Adelaide.

"For example, site four, Point Boston, is eliminated on the basis that it is adjacent to major abalone and oyster farms, which are in actual fact land-based hatcheries, and yet the chosen location has in-water mussel farming."

Regional Development Australia Eyre Peninsula chief executive officer Dion Dorward said there was an "absolute need" for transparency about SA Water's decision making process.

"Information that they've previously supplied us on other sites has been factually in error, information they've provided us about merits of alternative sites," he said.

"And it is these errors and the process that keep on undermining local confidence in the credibility of SA Water."

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Mr Dorward said many locals and stakeholders were "upset" by the announcement, who "thought they were being respectfully consulted with".

"But they only found out about that decision through phone calls from the media asking us what we thought of the decision," he said.

"There's questions about how genuine the engagement is from SA Water - is it just a tick box exercise or not?

"In terms of the site selection, it appears very much to be driven by the size of the budget rather than the evidence that's required to select a site that has less of a social, environment, and economic impact on the existing status quo.

The original 20 sites laid out for consideration by SA Water, in their report from September 30.

The original 20 sites laid out for consideration by SA Water, in their report from September 30.

"There's tens of millions of dollars invested in the bay that's represented by hundreds of jobs in the community.

"So industry and community is very concerned that SA Water has not done the required science to be able to reassure the community and industry that that investment and those jobs are safe."

Mr Patrick said they had wasted the 13 years and were now focusing on a "limited scope emergency fix".

"They have ruled out sites such as Cape Hardy - a site where the federal government is investing $25 million in a port facility - on the basis of cost," he said.

"Extra cost can be justified in the context of a vision whereby the EP grows - Southern Launch, Iron Road, Cape Hardy, graphite, et cetera."

The shortlisted six sites from SA Water's report in July.

The shortlisted six sites from SA Water's report in July.

Mr Patrick also spoke in the senate on October 19 about the desalination plant and SA Water's announcement "quick" announcement.

"Groundwater levels have declined, and the report makes it clear that we need to get a solution sometime in the next three years - we need to build a desal plant," he said.

He also used the speech to take a jab at Sam Telfer, who is the Liberal candidate for the next state election.

He told Mr Telfer to "start standing up for the people of Port Lincoln" or risk losing the election, however Mr Telfer said Mr Patrick was just playing "political games".

"Senator Patrick...is just trying to prove his own relevance after visiting Port Lincoln for a day," he said.

"There is no doubt that water for the Eyre Peninsula is a key issue which we need to have a sustainable long-term solution for, but I have heard significant opposition to having a desalination plant interacting with our important fishing and aquaculture sector in Boston Bay.

"We need to have clearer information on how they came to their recent direction, and greater detail on considerations put into other potential sites."

Mr Dorward said from the beginning RDAEP had asked for studies to be conducted into more alternative sites and water solutions, also writing to the minister for water.

He said the next 50 years of development and growth needed to be considered, as well as looking into current infrastructure such as pipes and pumps.

"It's disappointing that there isn't a framework in place to look at this more holistically...perhaps that's a role for the government."

SA Water has begun the next stage of community consultation this week with a series of drop in sessions about the project on the Eyre Peninsula which will be done over the next two weeks.

It began in Port Lincoln on Monday with sessions at Ravendale Community Sports Centre on Monday and Tuesday, which will be followed by sessions at Cleve on Wednesday and Kimba on Thursday.

This is followed by sessions next week in Ceduna on Monday followed by Streaky Bay on Tuesday, with two more days in Port Lincoln on Wednesday and Thursday.

SA Water General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure Amanda Lewry said these sessions were being held in parallel with ongoing discussions with local industry, including a dedicated industry reference group, made up of representatives from local government, aquaculture, tourism and various state government agencies.

She said the most recent meeting of this group details of an independently-facilitated multi criteria analysis (MCA) were shared which supported the decision-making process behind the selection of Billy Lights Point as the best location for the plant.

"Documents associated with the MCA are available for everyone to view online, and an overview is provided at the community information sessions," she said.

"We've held more than 20 individual and group sessions with the local industry this year, and regular industry reference group meetings will be ongoing to ensure their insights and priorities continue to inform the remaining planning and design phases."

Ms Lewry said detailed assessments were progressing to determine the positioning of marine infrastructure in the nearby Boston Bay, including for intake of seawater and outfall of the saline concentrate.

People wanting to attend the drop-in sessions must pre-book their 30 minute session ahead of time, and there is a limit to the number of attendees for each session.