Etheridge Shire Council will establish a business arm to help secure funding to develop an irrigated cropping industry using water from the Gilbert River catchment.
The move – details of which are yet to be finalised by council – comes four months after the $2 billion Integrated Food and Energy Development (IFED) project at Georgetown came to a grinding halt, blamed by its proponents on the state government’s reluctance to extend the environmental approvals process.
IFED proposed to use water from the Gilbert River for irrigated cropping, including cropping sugar and guar, growing and processing cattle, and aquaculture.
Etheridge Mayor Warren Devlin said the council had engaged a consultant, who had formulated the Tasmanian Irrigation Model, to assist with the development of a business model for the scheme, which has been called Gilbert Irrigation.
“Things are happening,” Cr Devlin said. “Council is working very closely with the consultant.
“We are looking at an irrigation project and water storages to irrigate 20,000 to 30,000 hectares plus.”
A council contingent, including Cr Devlin and deputy mayor Cr Tony Gallagher, travelled to Tasmania late last year to inspect the Tasmanian scheme, which “gave council a much better understanding” of the path forward, Cr Devlin said.
Council also held a meeting with Gilbert River landholders last month.
“Out of this meeting we have very positive outcomes, not just for the project but benefits for our region,” Cr Devlin said.
He said he hoped the Gilbert Irrigation project would help the shire become financially independent.
“There’s no doubt that Etheridge Shire will always continue but what I am trying to do with my community is establish an industry that will help the shire be sustainable and independent,” Cr Devlin said.
“At the moment we currently rely heavily on state and federal government funding to survive.
“It’s my dream that Etheridge Shire can be financially independent.
“When you look at how many dollars goes into rural and remote communities like ours Australia-wide, if the government gave us a bit of money for infrastructure it would be no time before we could be contributing back.”
Cr Devlin said the council hoped to apply for funding under the National Water Infrastructure Fund.