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Huon Valley woodchip facility offers 145 jobs

The construction of a $42 million export facility for woodchip processing in the Huon Valley will support 145 ongoing jobs and breathe new life into the struggling forestry industry in the South, proponents say. Source: The Mercury

Southwood Fibre, which already has a sawmill and processing facility in the region, has submitted a development application to the Huon Valley Council for the private proposal it says could generate $55 million each year in economic stimulus.

Under the proposal — which will take up to two years to build should the council approve it — certified plantation forests in the area will be processed at the existing Southwood facility for transport on a logging road to a single-use loading facility at Strathblane, just south of Dover, for direct export.

Only product certified to Australian Forestry Standards and/or Forest Stewardship Council requirements will be exported from the facility.

Southwood Fibre chief executive James Neville-Smith, who is also executive chairman of Neville-Smith Forest Products, which owns Southwood — said the project had been two years in the making.

“There are three fundamental issues with setting up a woodchip plant and an export terminal,” he said.

“One is the noise and proximity to residents, another is truck movements and another is visual amenity. There’s all sorts of places that are better locations for what we are doing but where we have chosen has ticked those boxes.

“So where we are going, we don’t go past a single residential house on the freight route, we will be doing the noisy part of the process at Southwood which is a dedicated forestry facility and the site for the packaging and dispatching of the chips is at an offshoot of Strathblane.”

Ever since former forestry powerhouse Gunns sold the Triabunna mill for $10 million in 2011, southern Tasmania has been without a wood export facility, with products freighted to Bell Bay in the North to be shipped.

In 2014, Hobart businessman Dennis Bewsher proposed a Huon River barge to ship woodchips down the river to a 40,000-tonne woodchip carrier at Southport, which sparked strong community opposition and exposed divisions at the Huon Valley council.

Mr Neville-Smith said he was confident this proposal would not encounter such stiff opposition, especially with a KMPG report saying it would generate more than $100 million of economic stimulus and 135 jobs during construction and then $55 million each year and 145 ongoing direct and indirect jobs once operational.

He said the business would directly employ 20 to 25 people once operational.

“So you will have a wave of new investment here in harvesting equipment, additional crews, trucks, people will buy food and coffee — it just goes on,” he said.

Mr Neville-Smith said it would be a 100 per cent private project and the funds would be raised through debt or debt to equity.