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The largest infrastructure project in the Port of Townsville’s history has reached a major milestone with the completion of the $232 million Channel Upgrade project’s rock wall. 

Constructing the 2.2km rock wall is the first critical step in widening Townsville’s shipping channel to allow larger ships, up to 300m, to access the port. 

The material recovered as the dredging team starts to widen almost 15km of sea channels over the next two years will be used to reclaim the area behind the wall and support a 62ha expansion. 

Queensland Resources Minister and State Member for Townsville Scott Stewart said the Channel Upgrade would support jobs in the Townsville region, providing local opportunities during North Queensland’s economic recovery. 

“The project has so far provided employment to more than 1300 people since 2018, when design work started,” Mr Stewart said. 

“Expanding the Port of Townsville’s footprint builds capacity for our resources sector to export more to the world through our pit to port approach, which involves upgrading the Mount Isa to Townsville rail line too. 

“The resources sector plays a vital role in supporting jobs across the state and it will be a key part of Queensland’s plan for economic recovery from COVID-19.  More exports means more royalties, and more jobs for Queenslanders.” 

Port of Townsville chief infrastructure officer Marissa Wise said seven local rock suppliers provided 900,000 tonnes of rock, with construction of the 10m-high wall requiring specialist knowledge. 

“It was a complex project that called on the marine construction expertise of designers, engineers, environmental experts and contractors working together,” Ms Wise said. 

“We have used a number of innovative design and construction techniques to ensure the rock wall withstands tidal action, storm surges, cyclones and rising sea levels.” 

During the peak construction phase of the rock wall, there were 200 trucks passing through the site gates every day to deliver over 20,000 tonnes of rock a week. 

Dredging to widen Townsville’s 14.9km shipping channel will commence shortly, with the project set for completion in late 2023. 

The Channel Upgrade project is the largest infrastructure project in Port of Townsville’s history and is the first stage of the 30-year Port Expansion Project. 

Townsville City Council has formally approved the development application for an $80 million hotel development adjacent to The Ville Hotel and Casino on the breakwater.

Deputy Mayor Mark Molachino said the centrepiece of the application was an eight-storey, architecturally-designed hotel which would be curved to capture the views towards Magnetic Island and back to Castle Hill.

“The accommodation component of the development consists of 137 hotel rooms, each with their own private balconies; a central reception area; restaurant; ancillary offices; and recreational facilities,” he said.

“The eighth level of the new hotel will include a tapas bar, restaurant, infinity pool and an expansive deck. An undercover pedestrian walkway will link the development site directly with the existing hotel and casino.

“To the west of the private road is a new 150 space public car park, with a further 20 parks to the east to be established for staff parking.”

Cr Molachino said council officers would continue to work with the project proponents to enable construction to start as soon as possible.

“Importantly this project also supports jobs during the construction phase as well as once the hotel is fully-operational,” he said.

He said the move by proponents Morris Group to bring the application forward for consideration was a real vote of confidence in the local tourism industry as well as the wider Townsville and North Queensland community.

“Council’s planning team have undertaken a thorough assessment of the application and given it the green light, subject to a number of conditions covering issues such as parking, traffic and noise management,” he said.

Morris Group owner Chris Morris welcomed the announcement and said construction on the luxury hotel would be underway soon.

“We’re pleased to hear that Townsville City Council has approved the application. That’s really the final piece in the puzzle, so now we can move forward with our plans and start work,” Mr Morris said.

“The region has so much to offer for the tourism industry, which is why we’ve been happy to continue investing in The Ville and the Northern Escapes Collection including Orpheus Island, Daintree Eco Lodge, and Mount Mulligan Lodge.

“We know that this piece of land is particularly special to the local community so we’ve spent some time making sure we’re creating something spectacular that everyone can be proud of; and we’re pretty confident we’ve achieved that.”

Glencore is on the hunt for about 40 apprentices to kickstart their careers in the North-West and Resources Minister Scott Stewart is encouraging Queenslanders to put their hands up.

Applications close on August 8 for Glencore Queensland Metals’ 2022 Apprenticeship Program.

The successful applicants will start work in January next year at Glencore’s mineral operations in North-West Queensland, living locally in Mount Isa and Cloncurry.

“Queenslanders who gain these opportunities will be part of a world-leading resources sector that is central to our ongoing economic recovery,” Mr Stewart said.

“Apprenticeships offer an opportunity to gain valuable experience in fields that are in demand nationally – like refrigeration and electrical trades.”

Queensland Metals already employs 186 apprentices across its North Queensland operations.

Queensland Metals human resources group manager Clint Milner said the comprehensive four-year apprenticeship program provided new recruits with the skills to build a successful career in their chosen trade.

“Apprentices have the opportunity to rotate across different areas of the business from mining to processing and smelting, allowing them to gain broader exposure to our operations and advance their knowledge and skills,” he said.

“Tradespeople play a critical role in our day-to-day operations at Queensland Metals, and it is extremely rewarding to welcome so many enthusiastic apprentices each year, especially when they come from the North-West region and we can assist in developing our local talent.”

Glencore’s regional human resource lead Jodie Hope said 67 first-year apprentices and 51 graduates started their careers across Glencore sites this year, many of them from regional communities where the company operates.

“Glencore employs 8,590 people across the state at our operations generating $8 billion in total economic value,” Ms Hope said.

“We’re proud that we have been able to continue hiring and providing exciting and well-paid jobs to support Queensland’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many of our Australian leaders began their careers as apprentices or graduates and have progressed their careers to senior management in our organisation.”

Mr Stewart said careers in the resources sector offer mobility across sites as well as long-term security, because the world will need Australia’s resources for decades to come.

“That’s particularly the case in the North-West Minerals Province as the Palaszczuk Government continues to work with industry in identifying and developing new economy minerals vital for 21st century technology like batteries and renewable energy,” he said.

Below: Robbie Pittis and Tina Bishop are both completing their apprenticeship through Queensland Metals.

Glencore Mount Isa Mines has started using a technique known as silica banking within the copper smelter’s Pierce-Smith Converters to improve its overall copper yield and reduce the amount of valuable copper lost to waste.

The idea to trial silica banking at the Mount Isa copper smelter came from one of Glencore’s overseas smelting operations.

“It was something the Altonorte copper smelter was already doing and with great success, so we were able to reach out to their metallurgical team and develop a plan for our smelter,” copper smelter plant metallurgist Michael Carkeet said.

“The initial silica banking trials have far exceeded our expectations, and while we’ve only been employing the process for a short time, it’s proving to be a valuable part of our metallurgical production process.”

Within the copper smelter, the Pierce-Smith Converters take copper matte – an intermediary product from the primary smelting stage – to produce two products: skim and blister copper (almost pure copper).

Despite being a waste by-product, skim is rich in copper, often containing between 50 to 60 per cent of the valuable metal.

Skim can re-enter the smelting process at the converter stage to extract the copper, however the smelter’s production of skim often outweighs its capacity to re-process it, resulting in an accumulation of skim in stockpiles.

With the implementation of silica banking, the copper smelter is working towards improving the efficiency of separation between skim and the blister copper at the converter stage to improve the operation’s overall copper metal yield.

Mr Carkeet said that without this step the skim travelled with the blister copper to the next stage of the process where it contributed to further skim and slag production.

“If we can contain skim within the Pierce-Smith Converter, with the aid of silica banking, we can convert it into copper and freely separate the iron slag,” he said.

Using a specially fabricated ‘charging boat’, the converter aisle crane pours two to three tonnes of course silica behind the lip of the converter vessel to create a physical dam or ‘bank’.

This dam retains the skim in the converter vessel and allows the copper metal to pour underneath into the anode furnace pot.

Smelting and refining general manager Adrian Herbert said the silica banking project was one of the many ways Glencore’s Queensland Metals was looking to improve the efficiency and longevity of its metallurgical assets

“The copper smelter team started silica banking in August last year and we are already reaping the benefits with a noticeable improvement in our copper recovery,” he said.

Below: The Pierce-Smith Converter at the Mount Isa copper smelter.

The CopperString 2.0 power project offers a transformation akin to the effects of the Great Northern Railway, which transports billions worth of minerals and metals for export each year, proponent CuString says.

The project was on track to be “shovel-ready” by October with the continuing support of the State and Federal Governments and was expected for completion in 2024, CuString managing director Joseph O’Brien said.

Speaking at the Smart Energy Council’s Queensland State Summit in Brisbane recently, Mr O’Brien said the company’s transformational energy infrastructure could deliver opportunities akin to the railway, which had delivered economic returns to rival any infrastructure investment in Australia’s history.

“CopperString 2.0 offers to grow this ‘Clean Industrial Ecosystem’ across the Townsville to Mount Isa Corridor developing our vast mineral and renewable energy resources,” Mr O’Brien said.

“It is estimated the value of these known in-situ reserves in the North West Minerals Province is $740 billion, 12 months ago it was $680 billion; that’s an increase of about $1b per week.  And when you dig into the exploration data you realise we have barely scratched the surface.

“The North West Minerals Province has the critical, new economy minerals that are in great demand around the world.  We need to develop these mineral reserves not just for ourselves, but for the rest of the world.

“The development of renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and battery storage technologies is dependent on access to these minerals. Our ability to develop these minerals and all the opportunities afforded across Northern Queensland relies on building energy infrastructure that aligns most closely with our long-term economic development opportunities.”

Mr O’Brien said northern Queensland was one of the most important regional zones in Australia boasting massive potential and a long list of unique inputs.

“We have the North West Minerals Province, the largest city in Northern Australia, the largest garrison city in Australia, the largest container and commodities port in Northern Australia, and amongst the highest water availability in Australia, and we have some of the lowest land-use constraints in Australia,” Mr O’Brien said.

“This is the status quo, the opportunities ahead of us building on this existing and mature platform are enormous, and they are important to economic growth and environmental objectives.”

A 105km water pipeline proposal for North Queensland is advancing through the approvals process and proponents will be pushing for co-ordinated project status for the $160 million venture.

Bowen Pipeline Company is aiming for a mid-2023 start to construction for the underground pipeline, which would stretch from the Burdekin River at Home Hill, south to Bowen.

Majority owned by local growers, the group recently lodged the federal environmental referral for the Bowen Pipeline Project and has also lodged paperwork for a National Water Grid Infrastructure grant to undertake a detailed business case with the Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water.

“In September 2021, we plan to lodge our application for designation as a co-ordinated project with the Office of the Coordinator-General,” director Sean Brown said.

“We request that the State support this project so that we can continue to progress towards our target date for the commencement of construction in March-June 2023, subject to the receipt of all required approvals.”

Mr Brown said the project would bring a reliable, secure water supply to Australia’s largest winter vegetable growing area – currently growing some $500 million-worth of fruit and vegetables each year. 

It would use world-class Australian technology for the onsite extrusion of the HDPE pipe in 200m lengths, with water users utilising modern trickle and drip technology to eliminate water runoff, he said.

A KPMG assessment showed the project would create up to 3000 full-time jobs when operational, in addition to about 145 jobs during construction (peaking around 205), Mr Brown said. 

Access to the resulting water supply was expected to boost annual local crop production by upwards of $400 million. 

“The project will solve a big local problem by supplying irrigation water and improving the use of up to 20,000ha of cleared Class A and B Good Quality Agricultural Land. Currently this land is solely used for cattle grazing,” Mr Brown said.

The development will include 105km of underground trenching; underboring of 12 rivers and creeks; culverts for multiple road crossings; five pump stations with 16 to 20 large water pumps moving 100,000 ML per year; and on-farm works for new storage tanks, piping, cold storage and sheds.

Mr Brown expected the group would have to appoint a Tier 1 or Tier 2 contractor to lead the project for financing purposes. “But we would look to use a fair bit of local input and machinery rather than importing workers,” he said.

Mr Brown said Bowen Pipeline Company had already secured the land required for the pipeline alignment and pump stations (conditional), completed all current environmental and planning reporting, and secured water allocations (conditional).

It is seeking Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility funding to help support the development.