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Federal funds threat blow for Ravensthorpe

EXTENSIVE regional benefits flowing from BHP Billiton’s recently announced $US1.4 billion nickel mining operation at Ravensthorpe are under threat after the Federal Government indicated $14 million in support funding may no longer be necessary.

A spokeswoman for Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane told WA Business News that BHPB’s approval for the development of the Ravensthorpe Project and related expansion of the Queensland Yabulu Nickel Refinery was “great news”.

However, she said because BHPB had made “a commercial decision to proceed with the project” it appeared the Commonwealth’s funding was no longer needed.

However, a BHPB spokesman said the lack of Federal funding could cause the company to reassess its workplace plans for the operation.

“Our preferred workforce model is residential,” he said.

BHBP is planning to house the permanent workforce locally – a decision hailed as a breakthrough in terms of reversing the modern trend at many mine sites to fly workers in and out.

A spokesman for WA Premier Geoff Gallop, who has written to the Prime Minister John Howard asking for Federal support, said it would be extremely disappointing if the funding was not received.

The premier previously said the Shire of Ravensthorpe’s population could swell to more than 2,000 people, thereby creating a very healthy future for the towns of Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun.

The BHPB spokesman said although it had not been able to confirm the Government’s position in relation to the funding, the company was still confident that its plans would proceed.

“We would like things in place as soon as possible,” he said.

The project has been on the cards for more than three years since Billiton – before its merger with BHP – bought out Australian junior miner, Comet for $28 million in early 2001.

The project is forecast to net huge rewards and flow-on benefits for Ravensthorpe and the region by creating 1,000 new jobs during construction and 300 permanent jobs once the mine is operational.

BHPB has worked in partnership with both the WA State and Federal governments for the past three years looking at multi-user infrastructure, the company’s spokesman said. 

The State Government has committed $18.4 million towards the provision of infrastructure and services to help provide for the expected locally based workforce.

A further $19 million could be spent on related infrastructure at the port of Esperance and $11 million on a range of public sector housing in the region.

The project includes the development of a mine, treatment plant and associated infrastructure near Ravensthorpe and the expansion of the QNI Yabulu Refinery in Queensland.

The mine has an expected mine life of 25 years and production will increase BHP Billiton’s Australian and Colombian nickel production from 85,000 tonnes per annum to more than 130,000tpa by 2007. Cobalt production will almost double.

Nickel and cobalt will be processed at Ravensthorpe using state-of-the-art laterite nickel processing technology and will be shipped via the Esperance port to the Yabulu Refinery for further refining.

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