TIMBER giant Gunns has revived hopes of making Portland the nation's largest woodchip exporter with plans to spend millions of dollars on a new depot.It will triple the port's storage and export capacity and bring new investment and job opportunities to the south-west city which has been hit hard by the global economic downturn.The contract, announced yesterday by Gunns and Port of Portland Pty Ltd, filled a void left by the demise of plantation companies Great Southern and Timbercorp.Previous plans for a $45 million hardwood depot at the port were scrapped last year and a much-anticipated port boom from blue gum harvesting was put on the backburner.Work on Gunns' multi-million-dollar new storage and loading depot is expected to start by Christmas and be ready early next financial year. The company was selected from a field of 20 interested companies. It will build and operate the venture with its own funds.Gunns chief executive Greg L'Estrange said local contractors and workers would be given preference where possible.He described the Portland investment as "modest".The company which already has a softwoods export depot at the port, owns almost 50,000 hectares of plantations in the Greater Green Triangle region, the region's largest pine sawmill and a timber treatment plant.Its total plantations estate, on the mainland and in Tasmania, totals more than 200,000 hectares."During the past 26 years we have exported more than 10 million tonnes of pine woodchips through the Port of Portland," Mr L'Estrange said.Glenelg Shire Mayor Geoff White said the announcement confirmed his confidence in the region's bluegum plantations. "There's a queue of companies lined up to purchase the Timbercorp and Great Southern assets," he said."Our council last year approved planning scheme amendments for a woodchip facility which means this project can proceed as quickly as possible."Port of Portland executive officer Scott Patterson said it was expected more than three million tonnes of hardwood chips would be exported from 2011."Therefore we needed to urgently seek ways to increase our capacity to handle the estimated $300 million in exports," he said.Another woodchip depot at the port, operated by GrainCorp and South West Fibre, is to be doubled in size to handle output from the new Myamyn fibre mill to open soon.
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