Image for Southern-fried half-baked woodchips

First published December 9

Here’s some gratuitous advice for the proponents of the proposed Southwoodfibre1 woodchip export facility at Dover: When you hold a ‘community consultation’, have a map of the site for people to see, ensure your laptop works and that you can answer questions with more detail than just platitudes. Especially if about 200 people fill a school hall, thirsty for information. Which they did and they were.

It was clear that the Wilderness Society’s concerns were shared by Huon Valley residents. Is Dover really the optimum place for a commercial port? Will Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s informal log reserves,  feed some of them through this facility? Who is actually funding this project?

But perhaps most pressingly, if the Liberals get back in to government and have another go at making 356,000 hectares2 of forest reserved under the historic Forest Agreement3 available to commercial logging – as they came perilously close to doing, but, paradoxically, for the Upper House knocking it back, failed to – could that unethical timber from these reserves be processed at the facility?

It would have been nice to have these answers but this wasn’t the meeting to provide them. Or anything much really. Ten minutes into proceedings, a local woman stood up and said “Can you just show us a map of the facility?” The reason they couldn’t, she was informed, was because they didn’t have one and their computer wasn’t working properly. A bloke in a fluro standing at back shouted, “That’s the reason we’re here, mate!” From this point, things in the school hall went south. (Pardon the pun).

Although there are plenty still doing it tough in the Huon Valley, tourism is through the roof, with record numbers4 visiting the area. With visitors heading up and down the valley, this proposal could literally cut across them, with trucks heading east to west, trucking native and plantation woodchips to be processed at the Southwood processing site then trucked to an, ahem, “slipway” – not a port (stressed the proponent) – across the bay from Dover, where they would be shipped to Asia.

Danny Peet, GM of the Neville-Smith owned Smartfibre, the company nominally behind the scheme, opened proceedings by saying the project was a solution to the “locked up” plantations in the south, talked up 135 construction jobs, plus 145 ongoing. He said there were 15m tonnes of logs ready to harvest and that this was about the future of young people in the area.

But when an audience member asked how many full-time jobs would actually be at the proposed processing facility, Peet replied “two or three”.

The audience gasped.

It became clear that most questions that asked for detail were rebuffed with platitudes about “wanting to work with the community” and not wanting to “disadvantage anyone or anything”. Before long, the audience was clapping questions that were sceptical about the project and jeering the proponents’ lame answers.

In the two-hour meeting, there wasn’t a single expression of support and let’s be clear: this wasn’t a hall full of greenies but of locals of all stripes from the Huon region.

One of the project consultants, Colin McCoull, kept making the strange point that they couldn’t release all the information they submitted to Huon Valley Council because he claimed there was a “fine line” between what they could provide to council and what they could release publicly.

But this “fine line” doesn’t exist. Greens MP and former Huon Valley councillor Rosalie Woodruff got up and said what he was saying didn’t stack up. She went on to ask if they would ensure no development application (DA) would be released over Christmas - they agreed - and would they ask council if they could release publicly all the info they had so far submitted - which they said they would think about.

Most people’s questions were about truck movements and there were clearly significant concerns about what impact the trucks - supposedly a maximum of six trips out of the facility, six back, every hour, 10 hours a day, six days a week – would have on people’s lives, safety and local tourism. Many of these couldn’t be answered or raised as many questions as they answered.

A woman asked about profits flowing offshore and corporate ownership. Peet responded in his best ‘indoor voice’ that Smartfibre was simply a Tasmanian family-owned company. When I asked about whether Global Forest Partners5 was involved, the multi-national corporation that bought Forestry Tasmania’s ‘locked-up’ plantations in a fire-sale loss to the taxpayer of over $50 million,6 Peet gave a one word answer: no.

But that doesn’t ring true. If this port is to export locked-up plantations, there’s no project without its owners’ involvement. 

But there was an even bigger and scarier shadow that loomed across the meeting than that of a huge, unknown corporation: that of the outwardly humble Adriana Taylor, the one-woman Huon Valley Council she became after Peter Gutwein sacked it and appointed her administrator. 

The conspiracy theory is that Ms Taylor is being kept in place to wave this mysterious project through, conspicuous by the way Gutwein has treated Glenorchy council so differently to Huon Valley Council, and forbidding any discussion between “the council” (i.e. Taylor) and Kingborough about amalgamation. (It’s just been reported that Hobart, Clarence, Glenorchy and Kingborough councils are considering a strategic alliance.

But then this is just one of many unknowns about the mysterious Southwood Fibre proposal. Despite being submitted, the DA is yet to me made available to the public and the proposal website is scantily clad (putting aside the spectacular drone footage7 of the coast and forest that would be sacrificed to build the project).

The proponents said they were committed to a full and frank public consultation once the DA is publicly released early next year. It’s crucial that that public consultation answers the many questions that this first public meeting failed to.

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Chris Harries in Medium: Land use policy may end up being much more important than renewables Growing trees absorb more carbon than we can poke a stick at! Given all the remedies for stalling climate change, my home state of Tasmania has illustrated, almost by accident, the huge role that changes in land use can play. Tasmania has the luck of having hydro-electric resources — lofty mountains and rainfall. But being a remote economy it has also relied heavily on exploiting and exporting its natural commodities, especially via its dominant native forest logging industry. A massive turnaround in the state’s carbon emissions occurred around 2012- 2015, whereupon the state Minister for Climate Change, Matt Groom, announced that the state had quite suddenly and unexpectedly achieved its 2050 emissions abatement target several decades ahead of time. This remarkable success came about despite the state government having a very weak mitigation strategy, having almost no deliberate policies in place to reduce emissions. How did this magical, phenomenal result come about then? It was all to do with a downturn in log exports …