'Big shame': Bechtel flooded Gladstone's rental market

An aerial view of the APLNG site on Curtis Island, Gladstone, in July 2015. The flares can be seen in the bottom right corner.
An aerial view of the APLNG site on Curtis Island, Gladstone, in July 2015. The flares can be seen in the bottom right corner. APLNG

IN SOME circles Bechtel is a dirty word and with news this week that the massive construction company completed work on Curtis Island, it may even be cause for celebration.

But whether you love them or hate them, Bechtel brought a lot of money to town and plenty of people grew fat from their wages and contracts.

>>Bechtel's Curtis Island construction ends

Gladstone wasn't prepared for the influx of 14,500 workers who all needed to be housed and fed.

Prices went up and plenty of people were forced to leave town.

WATCH | Engineering the extraordinary 

However, with the project as big as it was, it could be argued that no town could ever fully prepare to support what eventuated.

When a Bechtel housing manager spoke to Gladstone Ray White's John Fieldus and told him he initially needed 200 houses, Mr Fieldus remembered getting the sense that "something big was on the way".

"At the time Gladstone's vacancy rate was between 3% and 4% and then within six months it just about dried up to absolutely nothing," Mr Fieldus said.

"In a short space of time the rental market in Gladstone was behaving like one big Bechtel motel.

"Gladstone became a honey pot but there were so many bees around the honey you couldn't see it," he said.

ALL DONE: Bechtel has completed a six-year project on Curtis Island.
ALL DONE: Bechtel has completed a six-year project on Curtis Island.

Before the boom hit Mr Fieldus estimated there were 300 vacancies in Gladstone, now there are 672 which is down from 1000 at this time last year.

"It was a very tumultuous six years," Mr Fieldus said.

"I leased 120 houses with Bechtel and I can say that my relationship with them was positive.

"But if you look at it like a social experiment the town wasn't prepared and I don't think we knew what was going to happen," he said.

He said part of the problem was that by the time developers had finished building stacks of houses, Bechtel introduced its workers' camps when it wasn't needed and left Gladstone with houses it couldn't fill.

Bechtel general manager of LNG Alasdair Cathcart says the construction workers who built the Curtis LNG plants should be proud of the end product.
Bechtel general manager of LNG Alasdair Cathcart says the construction workers who built the Curtis LNG plants should be proud of the end product. Craig Chapman

Using Gladstone as an example, former Gladstone Bechtel manager Mellissa Case said that any houses built 18 months after the initial decision to start construction would lead to an oversupply.

"I remember going out to Kirkwood and it wasn't unusual to see 40 to 50 houses being built," Mr Fieldus said.

"And the big shame was that people couldn't afford the accommodation so they left town.

"I've got mixed emotions about Bechtel coming to Gladstone... it's good that it did happen but I don't think I want to see that again."

Topics:  aplng bechtel construction curtis island gladstone gladstoneindustry gladstone region glng lng qclng

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