THE SOUTH Australian government has approved Port Augusta Operations’ (PAO) development application for a bulk export port on the Upper Spencer Gulf. 

The new facility, Port Playford, will be owned by Port August Operations, which is a subsidiary of CU-Rivier Mining.  

The development has been a long time coming. Back in February 2019, CU River Mining announced it had acquired a 1068-hectare former power station site for the port. 

The port is to be able to handle up to 5 million tonnes per year of iron ore exports. 

The development proposal includes upgrade of the wharf area to provide new dolphins and iron ore storage and conveyor equipment.  

The new port is to provide export shipping services to existing and future mining operations and projects in the North Gawler, Curnamona and Braemar iron ore regions. 

Construction is planned to commence in mid-2021 with the first shipment from the port scheduled for late 2022. PAO holds a 99-year lease over the Port Playford site. 

South Australia minister for planning Vickie Chapman said PAO plans to invest more than $100 million over the next 18 months, unlocking $160 million worth of idle assets currently at the site. 

“It’s estimated that this development will create more than 100 jobs during construction and 80 permanent positions for ongoing Port operations,” Ms Chapman said. 

“This development will bolster the local economy and create a pipeline of growth opportunity for Port Augusta. There is scope for this site to accommodate a range of commodities and activities, including mineral processing.” 

PAO plans to load commodities onto shallow-draught self-unloading vessels at the wharf, which will then carry the cargo to cape-sized bulkers moored at existing offshore transhipment points south-east of Whyalla. 

PAO managing director Shaun Shan said the economic benefits of the development are already materialising with the signing of legally binding commitments with key customers. 

“Stage 1 of this project has already received more demand enquiries than its proposed capacity, which is fantastic news for our company and South Australia,” Mr Shan said. 

“The development strongly aligns with key state, regional and local development directions and will unlock significant economic benefit within Port Augusta and across regional South Australia.” 

In February 2020, PAO signed a memorandum of understanding with Havilah Resources for use of Port Playford. Havilah said the availability of the new port facility would potentially help make its iron ore deposits internationally competitive. 

PAO owner CU River Mining found itself in hot water about a year ago when its joint venture partner in the Cairn Hill Mine pulled out of the project due to national security concerns. The mine is on the Woomera Prohibited Area, a highly sensitive military site. 

CU River operated the Cairn Hill mine with its partner, JiuJiang Group, which reportedly has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. There was great concern that a mine not run by Australian interests would be so close to such a sensitive military area. 

According to industry media, JiuJiang Group withdrew from the project early last year and most staff on the mine were made redundant.

A South Australia government spokesperson told the DCN planning assessment considers land use and the management of potential impacts on the subject site against a set of planning policies and codes.

“Following a detailed and comprehensive assessment the Port Playford Export facility was approved by the planning minister,” the spokesperson said.

“The developer will need to meet a number of planning conditions before construction can commence and seek further approvals before operation can commence.”