Community wants a voice heard over dust

Ben LeahyNorth West Telegraph
Port Hedland resident shows the iron ore dust which collects inside and outside her home.
Camera IconPort Hedland resident shows the iron ore dust which collects inside and outside her home. Credit: North West Telegraph

Residents and business owners in Hedland’s historic West End say they are increasingly worried they have lost control of the future of their community, which they say now rests with Perth bureaucrats and mining companies.

Their concerns come as a taskforce of mostly State Government and mining representatives gets set to make recommendations on how best to manage dust in the district and prevent it posing health risks to residents.

The Port Hedland Dust Management Taskforce is expected to consider ways to further limit dust escaping into the West End.

But residents also fear the group could recommend tighter planning restrictions designed to move residential areas further away from the town’s industrial port, a move many believe would devalue existing properties.

Planning consultant and West End resident Owen Hightower said he was concerned these important decisions were being influenced by a taskforce which only had local representation from the Town of Port Hedland and the Pilbara Development Commission.

“If I could read between the lines, I would imagine … the future of this community (is) very much likely to go down the path of what industry and the State Government wants,” he said. “Which is easy regulation, or the least amount of regulation on industry, as opposed to what is best for this community.”

His comments come as West End’s future hangs in the balance.

The historic district is not only Port Hedland’s original town centre in a year in which the community celebrates its 120th anniversary, it also borders the world’s largest bulk export port.

To resolve long-running concerns with dust and noise in the area, Premier Colin Barnett formed the dust management taskforce in 2009 to provide a co-ordinated management approach.

The taskforce includes representatives from six State Government agencies, the Pilbara Ports Authority, five mining industry representatives, the Town and PDC.

The group regained prominence earlier this year after it was called on to assess a Health Department risk assessment report released in February.

The risk assessment found long-term exposure to high levels of dust near Port Hedland port could have an adverse affect on the health of West End residents.

Yet since the report’s release in February, Mr Hightower said there had only been silence from the Government.

The State Government has not yet visited Hedland to hold public discussions with residents about the risk assessment’s findings.

Mr Hightower said he also understood the taskforce’s report was confidential and this meant no senior Hedland community representatives had been able to view it to understand what its potential impacts may be.

While the Department of State Development is the taskforce’s lead agency, a spokeswoman did not answer questions about whether the group’s make-up skewed in favour of industry or when it was due to present its findings.

Nor did she answer questions about why the State Government had not yet spoken to the Hedland public about the risk assessment’s findings.

However, Port Hedland Industries Council acting president Brad Kitchen, representing mining companies using the port, claimed the taskforce brought together a diverse range of interest groups.

He said the miners already followed best practice dust management measures, while Department of Environment regulation had begun reviewing licensing conditions for port users.

“This review is currently under way with new licences having already been issued to some operators, which reflect the findings of the taskforce’s work to date,” he said. Town of Port Hedland Acting Mayor Camilo Blanco said the issue needed to be “managed with great care but also with a significant dose of common sense”.

“We absolutely support the need for the community to be protected, informed and consulted,” he said.

“Our town’s success rests on getting the balance right between industry and the community.”

Nationals Leader and Pilbara MP Brendon Grylls said he would wait to read the taskforce’s recommendations but would take a firm stand on ensuring very little dust escaped Port Hedland port.

Speaking at an event for young Pilbara leaders last week, Mr Hightower called on the State Government and mining leaders to end the silence and meet with the community to discuss the West End’s future.

“Let’s have a public forum and let’s have a debate and let’s see if the community can have more involvement in its future,” he said.

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