The Hells Gate Dam in North Queensland has been deemed viable after a feasibility study was undertaken on the $5.35 billion irrigated agricultural and power project on the upper Burdekin River.
The SMEC-led study, released today, identified the Hells Gates Dam Irrigation Scheme as a project with the potential to redefine Northern Queensland’s agriculture sector and underpin long term export market growth and investment.
Townsville Enterprise released the completed $2.2 million study following its review by State and Federal Governments.
Townsville Enterprise Chief Executive Officer, Patricia O’Callaghan said Hells Gates was part of a long-term vision to develop Northern Australia by securing new sources of water and energy to expand irrigated agriculture and grow export industries.
“The 12-month study found that the construction of a large dam on the upper Burdekin at the Hells Gates site was technically and economically feasible, with no major environmental barriers found as part of the Feasibility Study,” Ms O’Callaghan said.
“The dam could provide water for up to 50,000 hectares of land for high value crops such as avocados, citrus and capsicums.
“The agricultural precinct is located a short distance from the Port of Townsville and Townsville Airport, with direct access to expanding markets in China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
“If a range of factors including the development of largescale markets for high value agricultural products were realised, the project could inject billions of dollars into the region. It would potentially create an estimated 12,000 jobs during construction and more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs once completed.
“While the study only covered preliminary investigations into the issue of power, it did suggest the potential for a pumped hydro-electricity plant, generating up to 1,200 megawatts of clean, low cost, dispatchable energy.
Ms O’Callaghan stressed that Hells Gates was still very conceptual and was not relevant to Townsville’s current water security plans.
“Hells Gates is an agricultural and power project and is future-focused,” she said.
“We strongly support the Townsville Water Security Taskforce recommendations and Council’s construction of the new $200 million pipeline from the Haughton Pump Station to Ross River Dam.”
Charters Towers Regional Council Mayor, Cr Liz Schmidt said she believed her community would strongly support construction of the dam.
“Water security, especially for agriculture, will be a major issue into the future,” said Cr Schmidt.
“Phase One of the Hells Gates project would see the realisation of our community’s single most important infrastructure project – Big Rocks Weir. The establishment of a vibrant agriculture industry associated with the realisation of the Hells Gates Dam project and the development of Big Rocks Weir will have a direct and enduring positive impact upon the economy of Charters Towers and North Queensland.
“Big Rocks Weir would not only provide the Charters Towers community with a long-term water security solution but would also act as a first phase pilot project supportive of fast tracking the development of up to 5,000 hectares of arable land adjacent to the Hells Gates project’s most southern weir.
“Phase One including the Big Rocks Weir, is exactly the type of project we need to help secure our economic future.”
Ms O’Callaghan said the feasibility study has recommended that a Business Case including a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement be undertaken, which will be a vital gateway to getting this project proved up and underway.
“Stakeholders will not commit to a multi-billion dollar major water infrastructure investment without a comprehensive risk assessment and EIS being undertaken and we look forward to all levels of government working collectively to support this process,” said Ms O’Callaghan.
“If the business case and EIS proved up the opportunity, it’s not impractical to think that construction on Hells Gates could commence before the end of this decade.
“Hells Gates perfectly reflects the vision of all sides of politics for the development of Northern Australia and support for the business case is a litmus test for that stated commitment.”
Townsville Enterprise project-managed the study with funding from the Federal Government’s National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.