Controversy brews as Douglas sugar growers forge ahead with haulage plans


Paul Makin


Email Paul
Last updated:
Semi-trailers could be using the Captain Cook Highway every eight minutes. All pictures: Paul Makin

On the surface, it looks like the Douglas sugar growers' plan to go through with the 2024 harvest and transport the cut cane to Gordonvale is a lifesaver for the local industry.

No one can argue it’s a brave bid to save a town and a Shire. As my colleague David Gardiner reported in Newsport exclusively a week ago, it would involve using semi-trailers to cart the cane down south to MSF’s Sugar Mulgrave Mill at Gordonvale after MSF agreed to help them with the crushing.

The crushing can’t go ahead at the Mossman Mill, which remains closed after being placed into liquidation by the administrator in March.

A harvest and transport company, Bray Group, has placed an advertisement on social media in Douglas for 40 truck drivers to haul the cane.

Negotiations over the logistics of the haulage have been intense for some weeks and are still being fine-tuned with the State Government over how the sudden major increase in truck movements will be handled on the Captain Cook Highway.

Gridlock concerns

Of concern during this industry saving process is a section of the Highway between the Rex Lookout and Turtle Cove, Wangetti, which has been closed to traffic overnight since May 15, with just two brief opening times at 11pm and 1.30am to let traffic through.

Contractors have been working continuously to complete repairs and rebuild the road since severe water damage from Cyclone Jasper.

The TMR supports the growers plan to use the highway.

“We understand the sugarcane would be transported by 19-metre semi-trailers which are permitted to travel on the Captain Cook Highway and through to Gordonvale,” a TMR spokesperson confirmed to Newsport.

Possible tourism woes

Amidst mounting apprehension, tourism operators warn of a potential catastrophe if the proposed heavy vehicle traffic plan encounters mishaps on the road.

With the spectre of more road closures looming, both tourists and locals could face severe disruptions.

Even without accidents, the anticipated frequency of semi-trailer traffic (every eight minutes) spells prolonged delays, exacerbating existing challenges in an industry already reeling from the impacts of Covid and Cyclone Jasper.

As stakeholders grapple with the prospect of further setbacks, the delicate balance between economic necessity and environmental preservation comes sharply into focus.

Government heavyweights consulted

While the people in the tourism industry who approached Newsport don’t want to be identified (yet), they say Mark Olsen, the Chief Executive Officer of Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ), and the Minister for Tourism and Sport Michael Healy MP have been approached to look closely at this proposed cane road trip.

“This plan is fraught with danger on a road that’s under pressure and dodgy in parts already, so how are you going to have heavy semi-trailers using it in its present state with tourists trying to use it as well? It’s a recipe for disaster,” an operator told Newsport.


The concerned tourism operators reckon there’s only one way to fix this.

They say the State Government needs to pay the growers to plough out their present crop and look for alternative uses for their land and forget about this plan to transport cut cane down the Captain Cook Highway in these semi-trailers. While they sympathize with growers, they say the tourism industry is too fragile to play ‘Russian Roulette’ with.

Cane Growers return serve

Matt Watson from the Mossman Canegrowers Association asserts the legitimacy of cane growers' right to utilize the road for transport.

Addressing concerns over the potential impact of heavy traffic, Mr. Watson emphasizes that growers are not seeking special permits but rather exercising their inherent right of use, akin to other post-flooding cleanup efforts.

Mr. Watson says growers have been painted into a corner, and this is the only option on the table now.

“It’s not an ideal situation; we don’t want to truck it down there; we’d rather run the cane here, but every other avenue has failed to resurrect the Mossman Mill for this year,” Mr Watson said.

The passionate cane grower reckons the idea of ploughing the cane into the ground is not practical, and to leave it to rot would be a financial and environmental disaster

“What with feral pigs and rats and rotting biomass going down into the river system, I don’t think the State Government has an appetite for that," he said. 

Public safety

Meanwhile TMR has told Newsport public safety and smooth traffic movement is paramount when this haulage begins.

“Safety of road users is our first priority, and we will work with industry to manage the additional truck movements on Captain Cook Highway, Cairns Western Arterial Road and the Bruce Highway,” the TMR spokesperson added.

“Works to carry out emergency repairs on Captain Cook Highway between Rex Lookout and Turtle Cove will continue for some months.

“TMR will endeavour to minimise impacts to the travelling public, road users should expect delays and plan their journey.”

Support public interest journalism

Help us to continue covering local stories that matter. Please consider supporting below.

Got a news tip?

Send a news tip or submit a letter to the Newsport Editor here.


Comments are the opinions of readers and do not represent the views of Newsport, its staff or affiliates. Reader comments are moderated before publication to promote valuable, civil, and healthy community debate. Visit our comment guidelines if your comment has not been approved for publication.