AGRICULTURE and Food Minister Ken Baston toured the new Katanning regional saleyards last Tuesday, with Katanning shire chief executive officer Dean Taylor and shire president Alan McFarland.
Set to be the largest undercover sheep-selling complex in the southern hemisphere, there was no doubt it was an impressive site, with 1012 of the 1270 pens earmarked as selling pens and May 28 designated as the day of the official opening and maiden sale.
Mr Baston was impressed with the progress of the build and praised the Katanning shire for its innovation and foresight when it came to the costing and construction of the new yards.
Initially estimated to cost $44 million, the Katanning shire managed to shave a whopping $19m off the quote and built the facility, almost in its entirety, for $25m.
About $17m was contributed by the State Government and while the Katanning shire hoped to have the yards finished by April 1 this year, it proved impossible due to a few of the wettest months in the town's history (August, September and October last year).
Katanning shire CEO Dean Taylor said the heavy rain set the build back by about two months after prepared gravel ready for sealing needed to be re-laid and set.
He said a delay in operational licensing caused by government red tape was a second reason for the set back.
Once officially registered, the facility would be licensed to hold up to 45,000 sheep compared to the Daping Street yards which hold 20,000-25,000 head.
During the visit, Mr Taylor noted there were 26 sets of traffic lights between Williams and the Muchea saleyards (to which the new Katanning facility has been compared) and said Katanning's favourable location for truck drivers would help to ensure the success of future sales once up and running.
He said WAMMCO's Katanning-based facility would play a pivotal role as the biggest sheep abattoir in WA and would continually need Wheatbelt and Great Southern lamb supplies.
Mr Taylor said the site of the old saleyards had been identified as a future light industrial area and the shire had entered into negotiations with the Department of Environmental Regulation (DER) because it was also built on top of an old rubbish tip.
He said the landfill was covered in concrete and the shire hoped the DER would allow for further concrete or bitumen sealing before the light industrial area could be built.
Mr Taylor said during the negotiations the DER had ordered the landfill be excavated and trucked to the town's existing rubbish tip which could cost the shire up to $1m.
Along with Katanning's shire president Alan McFarland, Mr Taylor confirmed the new saleyard project was on track in terms of its allocated budget and praised the work of the hundreds of local workers who had been trained to contribute to the build.
All of the gates and rails within the facility were manufactured in Katanning most on-site.
Mr Taylor said the shire purchased the steel pipe for the construction of the gates rather than looking to China for pre-fabricated models.
"A Chinese company's gate would end up costing about $145 each, Cyclone and AgQuip gates were set to cost about $110 each and instead we bought 170 kilometres of steel pipe, chopped it up into 2.6 metre lengths and welded them together for about $70 each," Mr Taylor said.
"We taught 45 locals how to weld with the help of two professionals and facilitated the building of skills within our community."
Other efficiencies included the use of water on the new undercover sale site.
For every 10 millimetres of rain that falls on the facility's 44,000 square-foot roof, one million litres would be collected and fed into dams via a number of tanks and overflow systems.
The new saleyards would be monitored by up to 70 closed-circuit cameras in a bit to prevent vandalism and theft.
In response to Mr Taylor's claims of departmental red tape slowing up the registration process, Mr Baston said now that he was aware of the issue he would commit to trying to do something about the problem.
When asked why the initial $44m draft-costing was so high he said that any process or build put to tender by government was usually on the more expensive side so that all bases were covered when it came to making the physical investment.
"The wonderful thing about this project is it shows that with some initiative a lot can be done to make dollars go further," Mr Baston said.
"There are some incredible efficiencies at this facility and they are fantastic.
"Having been to the Muchea saleyards in the past and looking at these ones, it's a credit to all who have been involved.
"I can't praise them highly enough and I'm really looking forward to the opening day."
It was the first time Mr Baston had visited the new Katanning saleyards and it formed part of an overnight trip which also saw him visit Department of Agriculture and Food offices in Albany.
Mr Baston and Premier Colin Barnett will attend the opening sale on May 28.