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EPA may hold key to deal on Kwinana land

SECRECY surrounds the sale of a 207-hectare parcel of prime land on the Kwinana industrial strip owned by BHP Billiton.

While BHP Billiton, LandCorp and the Fremantle Port Authority have confirmed they are in negotiations over the land, speculation is rife that HI-Smelt, a company owned by Rio Tinto Iron Ore, also is involved.

HI-Smelt, an iron-ore processing company has a pilot plant located on nearby land leased from BHP Billiton and last Friday afternoon Rio Tinto announced it had forwarded plans to the Environmental Protection Authority to build a larger facility on site.

A Rio Tinto spokesperson said HI-Smelt would require more land to build the facility, estimated to cost $350 million, but would not confirm whether the company was speaking with BHP Billiton about the land.

The spokesman said the company was discussing a range of options to see what was possible for the Kwinana development.

“We have not even committed to the expansion project yet,” he said.

If given the green light by all parties involved, including the Rio Tinto board, the new facility would produce up to 800,000 tonnes of high-grade iron ore each year.

Neither LandCorp nor FPA would disclose what interest they had in the land, saying only negotiations were commercial in confidence.

However both parties said an outcome was expected within weeks.

BHP Billiton external affairs vice-president Stedman Ellis said the decision to sell the land predated the BHP Billiton merger.

“BHP originally acquired the land in 1953 and 1957 to support the steel blast furnace operations, however those operations closed in 1982,” he said.

“Parcels of the land have been sold or leased in the past … but after a broad review of our portfolio it was decided it was in our best business interests to divest the property.”

Mr Ellis said while the company had been happy to sell portions of the land in the past, its preferred option was to sell the entire property.

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BHP Billiton (BHP)

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