Sugar mill crushing it in flood recovery

Indynr.com has an agreement with local news outlet lismoreapp to share stories where those stories are of interest to our readers. This one about the Broadwater Sugar Mill is such a story. Thank you lismoreapp.

Broadwater Sugar Mill is on track in its flood recovery. Photo: Contributed

Simon Mumford

First published on lismoreapp.com.au

Today, the stacks that tower over the Sunshine Sugar Mill billow steam, but over two years ago the future of the historic mill on the banks of the Richmond River was uncertain after the 143 year old mill experienced its highest ever flood level.

Broadwater’s iconic Sunshine Sugar Mill was one of six significant large businesses that received government funding through the Anchor Business Support Grant Program in September 2022, which has enabled the companies to keep employing up to 1,400 jobs in the Northern Rivers.

Sunshine Sugar received $12,660,971 as part of the program.

That $12 million enabled Sunshine Sugar to recover from the February 2022 floods and build mitigation works at their iconic mill, which are on track to be completed in 2024.

Broadwater Sugar Mill’s operations manager Ian McBean said at its deepest point there was three metres of water in the facility.

“All machinery, electrical switchboards and most outbuildings within that flood zone were either destroyed or had to be repaired or replaced, leaving a $25 million clean-up bill,” he said.

Workers at the mill in Broadwater. Photo: Contributed

Utilising $12.6 million in funding, Sunshine Sugar started the massive clean-up – front of mind were flood-affected cane growers and more than 80 staff that the company employs.

“Getting our factory up and running was critical to ensuring that those people had an income and dollars were flowing back into the community,” Mr McBean said.

“They [growers] had been significantly impacted by the flood with 90% of our growers having lost their homes and equipment.

“A number of our employees were impacted by the floods, they are still living in temporary accommodation now.”

Funding was first used to remove mud from the plant and sugar storage facilities allowing work to recommission the massive crushing machines that power the mill.

“The critical works for us were getting the electrical switchboards rebuilt, installing new water tolerant modular buildings for offices and just cleaning the place up.”

Inside the Broadwater Mill. Photo: Contributed

As was the case with the Norco Ice Cream factory rebuild, flood mitigation efforts have focussed on lifting important pieces of machinery, electrical switchboards above the one-in-one-hundred-year flood level, while new modular offices stand above the 2022 flood height.

One of the final tasks was installing a new molasses tank capable of storing 2,700 tonnes of product. This will replace the existing 3000 tonne capacity tank which was lifted from its foundations by flood water.

In 2022, Sunshine Sugar managed to crush an incredible 408 kilotons of cane at Broadwater.

Funded mitigation works are on track to be completed by this year’s crush, which is forecast to be around 350 kilotons. The reduced cane volume this year is a legacy of the impact flooding had on young cane in 2022.

Mr McBean said the assistance from the government has been critical for getting their mill back to being operational.

“We are thankful and are sure this investment will pay dividends for the long-term flood recovery of the farming sector in the Northern Rivers.”

The billowing steam of the mill. Photo: Susanna Freymark

The $59.3 million Anchor Business Support Grant Program is jointly funded by the Australian and State governments and has assisted flood-affected large businesses in the Northern Rivers to recover, rebuild and resume normal operations sooner.

Recipients matched government funding dollar-for-dollar.

The other five businesses to receive government funding were:

Social Futures – $899,360

Norco Co-operative Limited – $34,698,362

McKinlay Enterprises (North Coast Petroleum) – $4,050,368

Williams Group Australia – $3,676,834

Multitask Human Resource Foundation – $3,314,105

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