WORK on the expansion of the Ord River irrigation area is set to resume after the project belatedly gained federal environmental approval last week.
The $220 million expansion of the Ord was one of Premier Colin Barnett’s top infrastructure priorities when he won office three years ago.
Work on the project started in May 2010, and the state government predicted then that the first blocks would be available by the end of 2011, following environmental approvals.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke granted that approval last week – with strict conditions.
Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls responded by announcing that, in October, project manager LandCorp would conduct a ‘request for proposals’ process for lots in the Weaber Plains development.
“The land release will suit a range of purchasers from large farming conglomerates to family businesses,” Mr Grylls said in a statement.
The Weaber Plain Development Project will expand the Ord irrigation area from 14,000 to 22,000 hectares, for irrigated agriculture and related infrastructure.
Mr Grylls said the state government would simultaneously seek expressions of interest for future expansion in the Ord West Bank and Knox Plains areas.
“We are looking for private sector proponents to work with government to obtain the required approvals over these areas to develop for agricultural use in the medium to long term. This will ensure the Ord River Irrigation Area fulfils its true potential,” he said.
From the federal government’s perspective, Mr Burke said: “While I have considered the significant economic and social benefits of this project, my focus has been on protecting environmental matters of national significance through strict conditions to manage any potential environmental impacts.”
The WA government will have to comply with the conditions, including consulting with independent experts to develop and implement management plans to ensure protection of species protected under national environmental law, he said.
One conservation plan will be for the endangered Gouldian finch to ensure populations are monitored and no active breeding habitat for the species is removed.
To protect threatened sawfish and shark species in the Northern Territory’s Keep River, the conditions require careful management of groundwater associated with farm lots, with discharges of water into the river to be closely monitored.