Mill that could have been greener on other side of politics

Mill that could have been greener on other side of politics

Inside a dark metal monster Peter Mitchell talks about how two renewable energy projects on this land were killed.

He is standing in a 50-metre tall metal building where his low-grade wood chips are sent to be burnt.

The environmentally unfriendly structure is about to be torn down and the cheap chips will now be turned into mulch.

But Mr Mitchell, general manager of South East Fibre Exports, said there was a better alternative.

The general manager of South East Fibre Exports, Peter Mitchell, looks over the pulp mill in Eden.

The general manager of South East Fibre Exports, Peter Mitchell, looks over the pulp mill in Eden.Credit:Jay Cronan

He said the discarded chips could have been turned into electricity using a $20 million biomass plant.

It was proposed a fifth of the power would have been used to run its mill while the other 80 per cent was to go into the electricity grid.

''It could have powered the equivalent of 4000 houses in Eden,'' he said.

He is surrounded by an electric fence that cannot stop all of the saboteurs who have been known to throw plastic into some of the machines.

At work in the South East Fibre Exports pulp mill.

At work in the South East Fibre Exports pulp mill.Credit:Jay Cronan

The project died after protests by green groups who labelled the development ''dead koala power''. The mill was eventually told it could not use native forest timber waste to generate electricity.

''We're told tourism is going to replace forestry and fishing but that's rubbish,'' Mr Mitchell said.

Also rankling Mr Mitchell was the even-turbine wind power project on the site, which was knocked back by a Joint Regional Planning Panel, partly because of the visual impact and partly because of the noise.

There is a battle of tourism versus industry along the coast of the Eden-Monaro electorate, and tourism appears to be winning, at least politically.

Commercial fishermen have been bought out by the federal government at towns such as Bermagui and in Eden loggers face a constant public relations barrage from critics and reports that the Labor government will not offer any funding in the future.

At the same time the federal Labor government has committed $10 million for a wharf extension in Eden if it wins power, a project it reportedly says is aimed at increasing the number of cruise ships able to come into the port each year to 50, which is a tenfold rise.

International competition forced South East Fibre Exports to cut 30 per cent of its workforce last year. Now it employs 42 locals but it provides indirect work for hundreds of people from a town of 3200 people where the median household income is about $800 a week.

Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly is already on the record as saying the economic base of the area must be broadened.

The Liberal Party grabbed 56 per cent of the two-party preferred vote in Eden in 2010. The loggers, at least, are unlikely to change their vote from Liberal to Labor this time around, if talk at the mill is anything to go by.

Mr Mitchell and his forestry manager Peter Rutherford said they trusted the Liberal Party more than Labor, and were concerned about any last-minute decisions made against loggers to gain easy environmental credibility before September 7.

Fishing and whale watching charter operator in Eden, Richard Buckingham, said there was great potential for a stronger tourism industry in the town.

He said his operation was closed five months of the year and he is sceptical about when the wharf extension will be built. ''Eden is dying,'' the 49-year-old said.

''Shops are closing down and the young people are moving to Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne.

''I hear there are two groups of people: those who want change and those who don't.''

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