Tiny Thevenard Island off Onslow has become the latest flashpoint in the debate over the legacy of WA's resources boom, with a resort operator proposing to turn its facility into short-stay accommodation for Chevron's $29 billion Wheatstone LNG project.
Local Ashburton Shire has been split by the plan, which will be considered by Lands Minister Brendon Grylls, before it returns to the Shire for approval over the so-called "change of use" provisions.
Chevron has operated crude oil production facilities on Thevenard since 1989, which boasts an airstrip.
Resort owner Mackerel Islands Pty Ltd also operates a 120-bed resort on the otherwise pristine island, 22km from the mainland, with a tavern and dive school for the area's world-class fishing and marine life.
It wants to lease 80 per cent of the resort to Chevron for five years, and use the proceeds to upgrade the site to make it sustainable post the current construction boom sweeping Onslow.
Shire president Kerry White has broken from her fellow counsellors and condemned Chevron's "steamrolling" the town into approving the plan. "You can't close an island for five years and say 'hey, we're back again, our business is open and we'll have you now'," she said.
It was "really sad" that Onslow was being forced to choose development over tourism, she said, which had sustained the small community and would be its future lifeblood.
However Drew Norrish, chief executive of Mackerel Islands, said that it would keep 20 per cent of its resort open for "diehard" customers. He said it was the only way to ensure the resort's future, given tourism in the area would be hit anyway while Chevron built its project.
"We are dedicated to tourism in the Pilbara, and we are utilising a short-term opportunity to create this resort and eventually be able to promote it to a wider community, even international," he said.
"With the construction phase it is not a fantastic tourism destination in the short-term."Chevron declined to comment on commercial negotiations. Tourism WA said it supported the compromise given Mackerel's commitment to future tourism. Mr Grylls declined to comment.
'The West Australian' is a trademark of West Australian Newspapers Limited 2013.
All rights reserved.
Select your state to see news for your area.