Increasing exports from Port Hedland have been causing dust issues for residents in close proximity to the port. Photo: Pilbara Ports Authority

Industry to wear costs of Port Hedland buy-backs

A buy-back scheme for Port Hedland property owners adversely affected by iron ore export-related dust is expected to be in place within the next six months, with the costs of the scheme to be borne by mining giants BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group and Roy Hill Holdings.

Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan confirmed in parliament this week that the state government was developing an industry led buyback scheme.

Ms MacTiernan said exact details of how the scheme would operate were still being determined, with the issue crossing multiple portfolios, including ports, planning and lands.

The scheme would only apply to residential property owners, she said.

“Work is being done to establish the mechanism for establishing the market value,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“The scheme being discussed would include a 35 per cent premium on top of the market value.

“It is important to understand property values in Port Hedland are underpinned by a thriving iron ore industry.”

She said the whole of the McGowan government considered the issue of paramount importance, and that a comprehensive resolution was required.

However, the minister said while the state government would administer the scheme, industry would have to bear its cost.

“We are examining different models for bringing together industry contributions," Ms MacTiernan said.

Fortescue Metals Group chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said the company had entered preliminary discussions regarding a buy-back, however, the state government had not provided any details of how the scheme would operate.

"The proposed voluntary buyback of land is a complex matter concerning the Town of Port Hedland and planning regulations and is not directly related to the operation of the port facility," Ms Gaines told Business News.

"Given the Port of Port Hedland is the largest bulk export port in the world, this issue requires thorough consultation.

"We believe any voluntary buy back mechanism should include a contribution from the state government with consideration of a broader review into future port operations, growth in deep water iron ore berths and shiploading infrastructure with a focus on supporting investment in the Pilbara and job creation.

"We are a proud member of the Port Hedland community and we remain open to consultation with government and community on the future growth and development of the Town of Port Hedland for the benefit of the community, industry and the state."

Increasing exports at Port Hedland have been a long running issue for residents, who often find their homes coated in a fine red dust.

The state government moved last year to restrict new residential development in the west end of Port Hedland in response to continued community concern over dust coated houses.

BHP, which operates berths at Port Hedland closest to residential development, last year said it had spent $400 million since 2010 on dust management, and had comprehensively monitored its impacts.

Wightman Building Company director Alex Wightman told Business News that Port Hedland residents had implored the state government to implement a solution that created a fair and reasonable environment for both industry and the community.

Mr Wightman said maintenance costs for two multi-residential developments in the west end of Port Hedland had increased substantially in recent years.

“An effective buyback plan is important because it gives the community an opportunity for industry to continue to succeed at its current level,” he said. 

“Port Hedland and the associated mining companies are a great asset for Western Australia, but the record export levels cannot be at the detriment of the community and the residents of West Hedland who have worked so hard to be there.”


Port Hedland
So our town centre is being sold out by government and industries compared to places like Esperance, where industry was made to clean up its dust problem. Why is our town so different? I was here before Mount Newman Mining (now BHP) and the rest of the iron ore companies; I have had to watch our clean, busy town centre in the last 58 years become a dust centre when it use to be full of activity and a vibrant centre. Shame on toyou all.

They cannot fix the dust problem and now it's getting even worse. They certainly don't want a class action from the residents for this environmental disaster. They need the west end for the planned next expansion. Many of us bought at the height of the market for close to $1 million and are left with a major debt and unable to sell unless the entire mortgage is bought out. At least the rent earned helps to pay it off. Unless I can get rid of the debt, there is little point in selling.

Port Hedland
West end is the original town site of Port Hedland and as such has heritage significance. What will happen to these sites? Will the area still be accessible and remain a townsite? This is information that should be identified and have a plan established that outlines what will remain, or is this BHP buy-back a way to get rid of homeowners and further erode the Port Hedland township? It surely doesn't have to be either/or. Let's have a thriving townsite that has a thriving and expanding industry to support the west end. It is very unique in the world that has Industry on such a massive scale on your doorstep and could create an atmosphere that will attract visitors and workforce alike. Industrial tourism could bring it all together. What an opportunity it could be – a community that is culturally appropriate for Port Hedland and its future development with liveable amenities and homes. Not just a void of space to create more dust.

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