Fury as airport cash denied

Sam JonesNorth West Telegraph
The Marble Bar Aiport
Camera IconThe Marble Bar Aiport

The Shire of East Pilbara has slammed the Federal Government for “ignoring” the region after a shared funding model for the Marble Bar Airport was shut down.

The planned upgrade, which would allow 100-seat passenger jets to take off and land in all weather conditions, had already secured $2 million in funding from Calidus Resources, which planned to use the facility to transport fly-in, fly-out workers to its proposed Warrawoona mine.

Speaking to the North West Telegraph in May, the Shire said it had not been given any reason by the Federal Government why the redevelopment would not be funded under its remote airstrips upgrade program.

According to the Federal Government’s own criteria, the program would provide funding to improve aerodromes in remote areas of Australia, particularly where road access is unavailable or unreliable, and where access for aero-medical flights and urgent supplies was limited, with a maximum grant amount of $3m.

A $2m shortfall in funding now remains for the the project, which Shire of East Pilbara president Lynne Craigie said was disappointing and didn’t prioritise the isolated Pilbara community.

“The Federal Government indicated there was a focus on funding projects which would provide accessibility in all conditions,” she said.

“The Marble Bar project is for an all-weather airstrip upgrade, and should have been a perfect fit.

“They have overlooked the fact that several times a year, residents and businesses in Marble Bar are cut off from Port Hedland for weeks at a time due to cyclone and flooding activity.”

Member for Durack Melissa Price said the funding program was intended for much smaller contributions.

“I appreciate the disappointment of the Shire, because it is a very worthy project,” she said.

“However, this funding bucket was targeted at smaller, less dollar value projects.

“I believe that out of the 88 applications, 45 received funding, with the average grant being $200,000.”

Cr Craigie said despite the average grant being far lower than what was requested by the Shire, there were plenty of examples of similar dollar value projects receiving the funds.

“In 2019, Flinders Council in Tasmania received $1.8m and the Northern Territory Government received $1.4m,” she said.

“In 2016 Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council received $1.5m, and in 2015 Mornington Shire Council received $3m.

“These past project were all for major upgrades, so we are perplexed why Minister Price has spoken only about projects around $200,000 that were given the go- ahead.

“Even if the minister was only referring to the most recent round, one project alone was funded $1.1m, and several others were funded around half a million.”

Cr Craigie said the project would still go ahead.

“The Shire is currently working through alternative arrangements to meet the funding gap,” she said.

“Upgrading the airstrip to an all-year, all-weather condition airstrip for charter flights directly into Marble Bar would have directly improved access for medical services like RFDS, improved access to goods and services for residents during times of flood, and provided economic stability to mining operations in the area so they can keep operating all year round by making sure staff can fly directly in.”

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