Fremantle Port Sale

I need to make it clear from the onset, this piece is some personal musing that came out of a sustainability assignment I did in 2009 towards my Masters in Sustainability from Curtin University.  I did present something similar to the inaugural Road 2 Rail meeting all those years ago.  In no way does it represent Fremantle Council’s position on this issue.
Earlier this week I attended the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) presentation on the sale of Fremantle Ports by the Treasurer, Mike Nahan.  Initially I was quite optimistic about what he had to say, however on reflection we were given a lot of mixed messages.  One of concern to me was that he definitely said that the passenger terminal and all of south quay to the west of the terminal would not be included in the sale of the port, but would instead have a Redevelopment Authority set up to guide development to compliment Fremantle and give community access to the waterfront.  However the map supplied by the Department of Finance shows no change to the current operational areas of the Port whatsoever.  This is a serious dichotomy that requires clarification.
He did seem to be expecting a lot from the successful bidder, including:
•    Funding a new livestock facility in Kwinana to the tune of $100 million to $200 million,
•    Agreeing to build and operate a new outer harbour as an overflow port as and when required,
•    Funding facilities to facilitate expansion of the Cruise Ship trade,
•    Honouring all existing contracts for services on the port, and
•    Not increasing fees for ships above CPI.
Furthermore, he seemed to be mixing the word lease and sale, so it is not clear what would go to the market.  Presumably the land would be leased and infrastructure sold?
His numbers on trade and number of containers, including those on rail were consistent with what we already know, however he is now saying Fremantle can cope with upwards of 1.7 million TEU (containers) per year.  Responding to a question he said the Perth Freight Link (PFL) would be able to cope with those numbers, any congestion would be caused by an increase in cars, not trucks.  That’s a bit disingenuous.  On the PFL he speculated once Roe 8 was completed they would look at a tunnel option for Roe 9.  If and when that were built they would consider how to address the river crossing and North Fremantle, this would be in around 10 years.  No wonder the Premier subsequently said we would be in for heavy congestion in North Fremantle.  If the plan is to more than double containers through Fremantle Port there must be a cogent plan for landside transport that can cope.  Doing sections of road piecemeal is not a strategic plan for dealing with containers, and is doomed to failure.  This comes as no surprise as that is Main Roads modus operandi.  They build a freeway, when it becomes congested they add an extra lane.  This is a policy of continual catch up.
The Treasurer said there would be no need for an outer harbour for 15 years, so it would be financial irresponsibility to build it earlier, and when built it would act as an over flow port, leaving Fremantle to handle 1.7 million TEU per annum.  He also conceded that it would have to be an island port in Cockburn Sound and presents large environmental challenges.  In addition the Navy would have right of veto for location to protect their interests at Garden Island.  Maybe its time for the Navy to relinquish Garden Island?  It would be a good place for an overflow container port.  It would require minimal disturbance of Cockburn Sound’s fragile ecosystem and has a custom made causeway for trucks.
So let’s recap.  There are plans to relocate Livestock and scrap metal to Kwinana, meaning containers are the real issue now.  The inner harbour can handle 1.7 + million TEU, but with or without PFL that will represent a trucking nightmare and destroy communities.  An outer harbour for containers will be very expensive and do huge environmental damage to Cockburn Sound.  The PFL when completed is north of $3 billion and a new outer harbour will cost north of $6 billion.  There is currently a Port Improvement Rate (PIR) of $11.90 levied per TEU to fund container related infrastructure, which will be used to start a war chest for the outer harbour.  At best this will have $6 million when the outer harbour works start.
There is of course no silver bullet, this is a wicked problem, but we can consider strategic long-term alternatives.  If the proposed Roe Highway extensions were abandoned and the $3+ million spent on a rail tunnel from a long overdue new road and rail bridge, under Cantonment Hill to connect with the existing heavy rail at Spearwood to Latitude 32, the freight hub already built and under used.  Containers would be lifted off the ship directly onto rail cars running between the cranes legs, this would reduce the multiple handling currently employed to get the containers onto trucks.  I would see this rail link as an umbilical cord connecting the inner harbour to Latitude 32.  This would reverse the current situation where 86% containers travel on road and 14% on rail, to 14% road and 86% rail.  The PIR could be used to repay some of the up front rail infrastructure costs for this change.  This would delay spending $6+ billion on an Island terminal in Cockburn Sound, and the huge environmental harm that would cause.  If by the middle of the century Fremantle inner harbour reaches capacity Garden Island could become the overflow container port.  Remember we would have saved $6+ billion, which could be used to relocate the Navy to a more appropriate location.
Of course we all have a responsibility to buy less stuff from overseas, buy local, and then the number of containers entering the state will not grow so quickly.

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