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New woodchip mill under way

CONSTRUCTION of Western Australia’s fifth woodchip mill formally started last week at the port of Bunbury.

Hansol PI’s $12 million facility is one of several new projects planned for the sector.

The next big project likely to get under way is a second mill for WA Plantation Resources, which has just started looking for a new location.

It has withdrawn plans for a mill at Donnybrook after failing to overcome long delays and community opposition.

General manager woodchip operations, Ian Telfer, said the company was assessing three locations for the new mill – the port of Bunbury, the Picton industrial area, or another site at Donnybrook.

Mr Telfer said approval of the Hansol project had opened up a new option.

“We had been discouraged by the State Government from using the port,” he said. “They weren’t keen on it two years ago.

“We are seeing if we can use Hansol to some advantage for ourselves.”

Mr Telfer said WA Plantation Resources, jointly owned by Japan’s Marubeni Corporation and Nippon Paper, was assessing the optimum size of the new mill.

It could cost as little as $5 million and as much as $10 million.

The size of the mill would influence the extent to which the company continues to buy woodchips from other suppliers, including Whittakers’ Green-bushes mill, Brooks Transport’s Dardanup mill and in-forest chipping contractors.

Mr Telfer said WA Plantation Resources’ Manjimup woodchip mill would continue to process native forest residue and a small amount of plantation timber.

The industry is gravitating towards Albany and Bunbury, to be near the plantation resource.

Hansol PI’s chief executive Gary Inions said construction of the $12 million wood processing and export facility marked the second phase of its plantation project, which began in 1993.

The company has invested $35 million to establish 14,500 hectares of blue gum plantations, with the Forest Products Com-mission acting as its agent.

Exports are expected to commence by the end of the year and Hansol has projected export earnings of $30 million per annum.

The Hansol group of companies is the largest paper and timber group in South Korea.

The Bunbury project follows the opening last March of a $52 million woodchip mill and export facility at Albany.

A consortium of Japanese companies, including Oji Paper and Itochu Corporation, developed the Albany mill.

The Japanese consortium has planted about 26,000 hectares of blue gum plantations.

In contrast to the big mills developed by offshore companies, local plantation managers such as Timbercorp, Integrated Tree Cropping and Great Southern Plantations plan to use mobile in-forest chippers.

These companies have either just started, or will shortly commence, harvesting their blue gum plantations.

Great Southern marketing man-ager David Ikin said the company would contract mobile chippers for the next few years and then review its options as harvest volumes increased.

ITC managing director Tony Jack believes in-forest chipping is more efficient and delivers environmental benefits.

To support expected growth in export volumes, the local companies are also planning to develop receival, storage and shiploading facilities at the port of Albany.

Mr Telfer believes WA can export up to 3,000,000 tonnes of woodchips each year on a sustainable basis, about double the expected volumes for this year.

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