Bio-En co-director Craig Wilkinson beside the Richmond River in Casino.
Bio-En co-director Craig Wilkinson beside the Richmond River in Casino. The Northern Star

Casino boom still on hold

PLANS to develop an ethanol plant in Casino which could pump $255 million a year into the town's economy are still on hold.
The Federal funding promise of $2.2 million, first announced by former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, has been delayed by the Government's review of the Regional Partnerships Program.

The proposed Bio-En Australia plant would create more than 1000 direct and indirect jobs in the region, and revolutionise the Northern Rivers' agricultural sector.

Due to growing concerns over the links between biofuel production and world food shortages the Rudd Government has undertaken a review of all Commonwealth grants to the ethanol industry.

In addition, following last year's Auditor-General's report, all Regional Partnership programs - the instrument with which the plant was funded - are being reviewed due to general maladministration across the board.

Funding for the Casino plant was approved by the Sustainable Regions Committee through the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.

Legwork on the proposal was done with the previous government and since Labor's election victory communication on the project has stalled.
However it is the misinformation in the argument raging over global food versus fuel that raises the ire of Bio-En director Frank Hannigan more.

He believes there is political pressure from certain corners of the business community.

"Their argument has no legs," he said. "It's a bit of a furphy. It's the price of diesel and oil rising that pushes up food prices, not ethanol production."

Bio-En co-director Craig Wilkinson agrees and believes the food versus fuel debate is the latest tool being used to beat the ethanol industry down.

"Recent figures released by the Argentine Government on this subject show that approximately only 1 per cent of global grain goes into biofuel production," he said.

"Under the auspices of NSW strategic planning the Casino area has been identified as experiencing substantial growth with the population due to increase by 134 per cent."

Wayne Halcrow, Richmond Valley Council's director of corporate services believes the plant to be a very significant proposal. "From council's perspective we welcome it. We do need to look at it carefully, its sustainability and benefits for the district. It could well link in with other projects in the region and would be a significant economic driver for Casino and the local government area as a whole," he said.

Richmond Valley mayor Charlie Cox is a project enthusiast.

A final answer on the funding is expected in the coming weeks.
"Allowing for the DA process and a relatively quick construction, all things being equal Casino could possibly see the plant begin operation as soon 2010," a spokesman for the Minister, Anthony Albanese, said.

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