By ERWIN CHLANDA
The territorial government has a habit of putting the cart before the horse, or rather taxpayer millions, before projects that are still green.
At the moment the NT is sealing 35 kilometers of road between Alice Springs and Titjikala at an estimated cost of US$1 million per kilometer, presumably to finance a project funded by Tellus Holdings Ltd. to support a planned salt mine and a toxic waste dump.
Titjikala shop and pet donkey.
It’s been on the drawing board for about a decade, still with no certainty about its future.
This is a reminder of the government spending of $32.2 million on a Top End road for “Project Sea Dragon…a $1.87 billion aquaculture project that will ultimately see the development of up to 10,000 hectares of ponds for the production of black tiger shrimp [with a] Potential to create around 1,500 jobs in Northern Australia,” according to the Territory Department of Industry touted a year ago.
‘Ultimately’ and ‘potential’ are clearly the buzzwords as there is not much on site today and the company that ‘designed’ Sea Dragon, Seafarms Group Limited, had a poor year on the stock market (see grafic)as reported by Listcorp.
The partial closure of the Old South Road will no doubt be welcomed by the 200 souls in Titjikala, 105 km from Alice Springs, by the finch race spectators who come to their bush camps once a year and by the people who drive to Chamber’s Pillar , although the last 45km beyond the township are pretty rough.
However, the tourism industry may prefer to put the money into the East-West Outback Way seal and proceed at a snail’s pace. If we were to award the contract to Boulia Shire Council, we would get three kilometers of seal instead of one.
The planned salt mine is about 15 kilometers south of Titjikala.
So far, not much has happened there, apart from speeches. There is still no indigenous land use agreement with the locals.
Jeff MacLoud, CEO of the MacDonnell Council says the project got out of hand. Previous negotiations with traditional owners may no longer be relevant as some of them have died.
There would have to be “a restart of the engagement process. You look at the entire model again.
We have contacted Tellus, NT Mines Minister Nicole Manison and the Central Land Council for information on the project. No one has replied, but we will consider posting any statements they have provided.
MacDonnell member Bill Yan says, “I’ve heard snippets of things, but nothing concrete at this point.”
It seems Tellus’ focus is very much on toxic waste disposal.
In March of last year, Tellus received approval from the WA government for its Sandy Ridge facility to “receive, store, treat and dispose of hazardous and intractable waste,” according to the company’s website.
Company CEO Nate Smith is quoted as saying: “Hazardous waste previously exported can now be treated and disposed of in Australia as part of our best practice circular economy commitments.
“This will deliver a significantly lower carbon footprint than offshore disposal forms.”
He says Sandy Ridge, 150 miles west-northwest of Kalgoorlie, is now “approved to accept almost all types of hazardous waste, including waste from a wide range of industrial sectors including mining, oil and gas, remediation and utilities.
Project Sea Dragon Shrimp: Government sponsored.
“Sandy Ridge does not accept international waste, nuclear waste, or waste streams that fall under the intermediate or high level radioactive waste designations.”
This indicates that low-level radioactive waste is accepted.
Mr MacLoud says while Tellus still appears to intend to get the Titjikala (Chandler) project up and running, the company appears focused on getting its WA project up and running.
He says he was in contact with the company about eight months ago when he was told they were “reviving” the Chandler project.
“You’re looking at the whole model in a new way.”
There have been talks about the company co-financing the road seal. The construction of a stub line to the Ghan railway was not favoured.
Mr. Yan says: “I heard that Tellus is trying again to get back into the proposed salt mine in Titjikala. I don’t have any information on dates or timeframes just that you’re looking at that again.
Are there negotiations with the municipality?
“My liaison officer attended the last ward council meeting in the community and it was mentioned.”
Will Tellus pay for part of the Old South Road sealing?
“I don’t think so, the recent upgrades were funded by the government,” says Mr. Yan.
What is the daily traffic on this road if there is no salt mine?
“Hard to say. Tourism in this area is picking up I think with the Ooraminna Homestead and Oak Valley. Parks may have numbers on Chamber’s Pillar visitors (pictured) and Ewaninga Rock Carvings,” says Mr. Yan.
“I suppose over the years I’ve noticed more tourists on the Old South Road. Community travel has probably increased a bit as the communities and people accessing services in Alice increase.
Do these traffic increases justify upgrading the paved road in the area?
“Hard to say. The communities and field offices certainly welcome that. Of all the dirt roads in the Namatjira constituency, the Old South Road is probably the roughest. The Santa Teresa road is the second worst and this community is far larger than Titjikala.”
PHOTO Above: Global waste storage company PacTec and Tellus will use flexible packaging and container-sized bin liners. According to the company, such packaging is a safe alternative to heavy drums and containers. IMAGE from the Tellus website.