Originally written by BILL MELDRUM
PORTLAND residents have been urged to seize the business and employment opportunities that will flow from the proposed Heywood pulp mill development.
It follows a public information session aimed at Portland residents attended by an estimated 80 people on Tuesday night on the pulp mill and associated developments. Robert Walsh from mill operator and maintenance firm Silcar, Timbercorp Green Triangle Forest manager Darren Sheldon, and HeyDO executive officer Craig Keating all outlined the numerous job and business oportunities stemming from the mill and blue gum plantation harvest. It is expected construction of the mill will start early next year, with the mill operational by 2009. A contractor for the up to 600 construction jobs is yet to be announced. However, Mr Walsh said Silcar would operate and maintain the mill once it was operational. Mr Walsh said the company would employ apprentices and training programs would be in place. Timbercorp’s plantation harvests would create further job opportunities, with about 280 direct positions needed should the company adopt infield chipping systems. Mr Sheldon said indirect job opportunities would also be created, particularly in areas such as specialist mechanics, tyre fitters, saw sharpeners, van constructions and diesil mechanics. Mr Keating said HeyDO saw the population influx into Heywood as an opportunity to improve the numbers of doctors to the town. “Workers will bring their partners and there may be a nurse among them, along with other professionals Ñ we see this as a wonderful opportunity for Heywood first, along with nearby areas like Portland,” he said. In a further development, residents were also given some reassurance from Messrs Sheldon and Keating on various practices that could be adopted to minimise the risks of mixing heavy transport traffic with school buses. Mr Keating referred to practices adopted in the south-west of Western Australia district of Mount Barker where school bus drivers had been supplied with radios and were able to communicate with timber trucks to know of movements. Other alternatives discussed included the possibility of truck drivers changing their hours to avoid school buses or taking different routes. The concern from the meeting stemmed from figures on predicted truck movements to the Port of Portland given by the port’s chief executive officer Martin Norman. Mr Norman said the port currently had 90,000 truck visits a year, mainly from the softwood timber industry. That figure is expected to increase to anywhere between 120,000 and 240,000 truck movements a year once the blue gum plantation harvest starts in earnest from 2009. Several residents highlighted the need to solve potentially dangerous intersections on the Henty Hwy where school bus and port traffic already mix, particularly Madeira Packet Rd with buses from schools in the Trangmar St precinct.