Repairs to the Eden chip mill are full steam ahead, with pylons being replaced on the main jetty conveyor system over the past week following underwater assessments by divers last month.
Allied Natural Wood Exports’ general manager Jarrod Wallis said the repairs were being conducted according to a “set timetable” with the hope of getting the jetty back in operation by the end of the year.
“Everyone is working feverishly,” Mr Wallis said. “The focus is the main jetty system that heads out to the T-head wharf.”
The conveyor system has been inoperable after being smashed during a major storm in June, with the mill using a multi-purpose wharf to conduct scaled-back operations since.
Conservationists called the jetty’s destruction an act of revenge by Mother Nature and hoped for it to mark the beginning of the end for the chip mill. Meanwhile, many in the Eden community prayed for the opposite, with their jobs on the line and wood exporting regarded as part of the town’s life-blood.
But questions remain over the cost of the repair bill and if it was an insurance claim or a government bail-out.
“We’re funding the repair work without government assistance at the moment, via internal sources,” Mr Wallis said.
He said those sources were “undisclosed”, as was the repair bill total, citing both as “internal information”.
“Before the storm we were receiving 12 ships per year and moving 500,000 tonnes of wood chips per year, mostly head to South East Asia, which was a mix of native forest and plantation timbers,” he said.
“At this stage there will be no adjustment to how we are working, or where we will source our timbers.”
Chipstop’s Harriett Swift – long-term protestor of the chip mill – was grim about the update.
“It’s disappointing they didn’t take this opportunity to make a fresh start, but we obviously don’t know the whole story yet.
“There are so many products they could have made from plantation woods that they wouldn’t need the jetty for, so they’re obviously moving back to wood-chip production,” Ms Swift said.
Member for Bega Andrew Constance said the damage the loading wharf sustained could have had serious implications across the region socially and economically, so he was extremely pleased “this vital piece of infrastructure” was being rebuilt.