Port lease saga sinks company
AN AQUACULTURE company is fighting for compensation from the Bundaberg Port after it “wasted” hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to set up a business it has been unable to operate there.
Coral Coast Mariculture director Dr Clive Keenan has also asked the State Government to investigate “unjustified” rent increases of up to 66% at the port, which is now owned by Gladstone Ports Corporation.
Dr Keenan travelled to Brisbane last week to meet with Main Roads, Fisheries and Marine Infrastructure Minister Craig Wallace, port corporation representatives and Member for Burnett Rob Messenger, and is now awaiting the outcome of the discussions.
In the meantime, the company has been forced to sell after it became saddled with too much debt.
“We spent a lot of money for that project,” he said.
The company’s problems began when directors tried to secure a lease at the port in 2005 to set up a soft-shell crab project, for which they had received State Government funding under its Sustainable Regions program.
But lease negotiations became bogged down over clauses that would have required the aquaculture company to give back some of its land and remove infrastructure at the port’s discretion.
Even after they had agreed on the terms, the then Bundaberg Port Authority delayed sending the final lease agreement for months.
“Our lawyer wrote every two weeks for six months requesting the lease,” Dr Keenan said.
Prior to lease negotiations, Coral Coast Mariculture had bought the lease on the defunct Mandarin Trawlers site at the port, which already boasted a processing plant and offices the company would otherwise have had to build.
But they still required the finalised lease for more land to farm the crabs.
As time dragged on, the company was under pressure to start the project or pay back the Sustainable Regions money.
“We had already spent $1.5million on Mandarin and liners for the ponds, about $400,000 fixing it up and then there was wages,” Dr Keenan said.
Eventually, the frustrated company bought an established aquaculture farm on Littabella Creek and began operating soon after.
Just after the News- Mail reported the company’s Littabella Creek project starting in late 2006, the port authority finally came forward with the lease on the second parcel of land – some nine months after terms had been agreed to.
“But there was no point wasting any more money there,” Dr Keenan said.
Once the Littabella farm was up and running, the businesses no longer needed the port facilities, but they were stuck with the Mandarin site – a 36-berth marina, processing and cold store – which they then put on the market.
A contract to sell with Urangan Fisheries was made, but fell over because of the Global Financial Crisis.
Dr Keenan said it had been costing the business about $200,000 a year on their port facilities that they were not even using.
Part of the problem was exorbitant rents on the Mandarin property.
“The rent went up 66% in one year, from $30,000 to $50,000, and there was no justification for that,” he said.
“Our neighbours’ rent went up 33%.
“The valuer made a big mistake in the valuation – it was just way too high.”
The NewsMail contacted the Gladstone Ports Corporation and Mr Wallace’s office for comment yesterday.
A Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesperson responded on behalf of all organisations and said the department had sought clarification from the Gladstone Ports Corporation regarding the commercial negotiations undertaken between the parties.
“A response will be provided to Dr Keenan regarding his claims once the circumstances relating to the soft-shell crab aquaculture project have been provided by the Gladstone Ports Corporation,” the spokesperson said.