The development of BHP Billiton’s $2.2 billion Ravensthorpe nickel project and the consequent transformation of a nearby small rural town has brought into focus the benefits of funding collaboration between state and federal governments.
The development of BHP Billiton's $2.2 billion Ravensthorpe nickel project and the consequent transformation of a nearby small rural town has brought into focus the benefits of funding collaboration between state and federal governments.
In what could prove to be a test case for future resource development projects at nearby townships, the seaside town of Hopetoun has been at the centre of rapid infrastructure development during the past four years in preparation for the project.
Overall, BHP has invested more than $130 million in land acquisitions and building costs, as well as community amenities and infrastructure such as recreational facilities and childcare.
Meanwhile, more than $50 million of combined infrastructure assistance has been given by state and federal governments.
At the project's official opening ceremony held last week, much was made of the government and company spending on boosting the region's infrastructure to cope with the influx of workers and their families.
The apparent unity between state and federal governments evident at the ceremony was in contrast to the wrangling that took place during the past few years over the level of funding from each for the development of the region's infrastructure needs.
Early last year, Treasurer Eric Ripper called on the Howard government to commit more funds to the project, arguing that the Commonwealth was set to receive more in royalties from the project, around seven times compared with what the state government would receive.
This came despite an agreement in 2004 between state and federal governments and BHP over funding of multi-user infrastructure.
"An historic 2004 agreement saw the state government contribute $18 million, the federal government $9.8 million and BHP Billiton $9.5 million to the development of multi-user infrastructure in the Shire of Ravensthorpe," Premier Alan Carpenter said at the opening ceremony.
The battle between state and federal governments came to a head last year when an agreement could not be reached on funding for Hopetoun's new wastewater treatment plant, estimated to cost $32 million, which was needed to service the new housing developments to cater for the growing population.
Approval was finally given in September from the state government to go ahead with the $15 million first stage of the plant.
Water Corporation spokesperson Phil Kneebone told WA Business News the first stage would be completed by the end of this year and would cater for up to 1,100 services.
"As for the rest of the services, there'll probably be around 3,000 services eventually in Hopetoun, so there's got to be a second stage at some point but nothing's been done on that," Mr Kneebone said.
The new plant will provide services to priority areas such as the town's central business area and LandCorp's Mary Ann Waters Estate.
The state has been developing the estate over the past three years and so far 273 lots have been sold, with BHP buying 173 of those.
The purchase is in addition to BHP's 54-unit 'Seaview' residential village, which was officially opened last year.
Following BHP's green light to the operation in 2004 and its commitment to proceed with a residential workforce instead of a fly-in/fly-out service, the population of Hopetoun has more than trebled, while the shire of Ravensthorpe has grown nearly 11 per cent in one year to about 2,300 residents.
BHP says half of its 650 project employees now live in the shire.
Ravensthorpe shire president Brenda Tilbrook said while much had been done to accommodate for the anticipated influx of workers and their families, more facilities and services were needed.
"At the moment, the population of Hopetoun is around 1,000. We expect that to double in the next five years, and while its still classified as a small town, just remember five or so years ago it was just 300," Ms Tilbrook said.
She added that the quick population growth was evident at the new $5.2 million Hopetoun Primary School, which only came into operation at the start of last year.
The school was planned to accommodate 130 children, however Ms Tilbrook said that figure was reached during the first term of 2007, with 150 students currently enrolled.
"It was expected to take two or three years to get to its capacity of 130...but now the education department's looking at extending a school that it's only just built," she said.