The Environmental Protection Authority has moved to streamline the approval process for a Chinese-owned company granted exclusive rights to develop a sugar industry on the Ord River.
In a report released yesterday, the EPA recommended the removal of a host of conditions and proponent commitments dating back more than 10 years to when Wesfarmers and Marubeni sought to develop a sugar industry.
The EPA report simplifies the way forward for Shanghai Zhongfu, trading in Australia as Kimberley Agricultural Investments, which is locked in commercial negotiations with the State Government and traditional landowners the Miriuwung Gajerrong on plans to spend more than $700 million over the next six years to develop a sugar industry.
Ord-East Kimberley Expansion Project director Peter Stubbs said he had asked the Department of State Development to apply for the EPA amendments because some of the conditions had been overtaken by native title agreements while others doubled up with the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation approval process and management plans.
The EPA's recommendations must be ratified by Environment Minister Bill Marmion and Mr Stubbs said he hoped that would happen before the State election.
The Government named KAI as the preferred developer of 13,400ha released under the latest extension of the Ord irrigation scheme in November. KAI will pay a nominal rent to develop the Ord land into farms and has pledged to build a sugar refinery in the Kimberley.
It is in talks with the Northern Territory Government on plans to extend the irrigation scheme across the border to access more land to grow sugar cane. The Ord project's State negotiating team, chaired by Monty House, will hold briefings in the NT this month.
The Government invested more than $300 million in infrastructure for the Ord extension, with about 70 per cent of the construction work completed.
Mr Stubbs said about 160 people would be employed this year to complete roads, a spur channel and drainage facilities.