Review of Alkaline Lime Sand Routes

Communities involved were able to develop a better understanding of the wide-ranging issues associated with the future transport of lime sand along Routes 1 and 2

The Issue

Productive agriculture is an acidifying process. Soils gradually become more and more acidic as alkaline products in the form of grain, hay or grazing pastures are removed. If no remedial action is taken then the result will be declining crop productivity levels in the Wheatbelt region. Soil acidification can be successfully counteracted through the application of lime sand. Advice received by the Department of Agriculture Western Australia indicated that between 1.0 and 5.0 million tonnes of lime is required annually to address ongoing acidification.

Lime sand is natural to sections of Western Australian coastal areas, with large deposits in the vicinity of Lancelin and Cervantes. There is a need to move this resource to inland Wheatbelt areas. This transport task is predicted to reach levels in excess of 400,000 tonnes per annum from the Lancelin area by 2007.

Concerns had been expressed by residents of Toodyay regarding future heavy haulage transport of agricultural lime sand along Route 1. The Government gave a commitment to undertake a consultative review to determine whether Route 2 offered a better option for the cartage of lime sand through the Wheatbelt region.

The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure decided to carry out a review with the following objectives:

  • ensure wide community representation / participation by those communities impacted by the routes as well as industry, state and local government representatives;
  • consider the social, environmental and economic impacts of Routes 1 and 2 using a multi-criteria assessment1¬†that is inclusive, transparent and accountable;
  • assist participants to understand the issues from different perspectives and reach agreement on plans for the lime sand road haulage task from Lancelin; and recommend investment priorities to the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure.

The Methodology

Multi Criteria Analysis Conference

A Multi Criteria Analysis is a decision-aiding technique to analyse alternatives to complex problems using weighted triple bottom line criteria that are developed by all stakeholders. The end result is the ‘best fit’ option.

The process is systematic, structured, open and accountable. It engages all key stakeholders with their differing objectives. Both technical data and value judgements are used to reach a preference.

The MCA process has four key components:

  1. A set of alternative options
  2. A set of criteria for comparing the alternatives
  3. Weighting to attach a measure of importance to each criteria
  4. A method of ranking the alternatives based on how well they satisfy the criteria

The process involves four key steps:

  1. Preparation and involvement of the community from the start;
  2. An initial Forum of all participants to determine the options and criteria;
  3. An Expert Panel to oversee the quantitative data and to rate the qualitative data, with both sets of data being input to a specialised software package;
  4. A second Forum of all participants to weight the criteria according to their importance. Using both the quantitative and qualitative data, together with the value judgement weightings, the computer software determines the best options.

The Process

Prior to the 1st Forum
MCA Steering Group
A Steering Group was established consisting of community, industry and government representatives including a representative from each of the local shires involved. Its task was to oversee the MCA process to ensure it was fair, comprehensive and accountable, and to submit a recommendation of the preferred route to the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure. The Steering Team was facilitated to help ensure that the process remained on track and on time.

MCA Forum Representation
Participants were selected to attend the workshops using three methods:

  • Direct invitation to people nominated by the Steering Group including: school bus operators, limes and cartage contractors, environmental lobby groups, local shire representatives, farmers and community members.
  • Letters sent to a random sample of people from the electoral role in shires impacted by the routes.
  • Respondents to newspaper advertisements in the West Australian as well as relevant industry and local newspapers.

Technical Expert Panel Representation
The Expert Panel was established prior to the first workshop. The members were selected by the Steering Group on the basis they were knowledgeable in terms of social, economic and/or environmental issues, capable of scoring data, as well as providing independent certification that scoring was conducted fairly.

Information Briefing Packages
Prior to the first forum, papers were circulated, which covered the main issues associated with the use of lime sand and transport implications, including:

  • Demand for Agricultural Lime Sand
  • Route Planning for Transport of Agricultural Lime Sand from Lancelin
  • Route Planning to Meet other Transport Demands
  • The Potential use of Rail
  • Views from the Communities Concerned with Agricultural Lime Sand Cartage Route1
  • Views from the Communities Concerned with Agricultural Lime Sand Cartage Route 2

1st Forum
The 1st Forum was held in Northam on 22 June 2002. It was attended by just over 100 people, comprising a representative sample of members of the communities impacted by the transport of agricultural lime sand as well as industry, state and local government representatives.

To further inform participants, there were presentations on the process and key issues associated with lime cartage including.

  • Need for agricultural lime
  • Is rail an option?
  • Route planning for transport of lime sand
  • Planning for other transport issues
  • Communities concerned with Route 1
  • Communities concerned with Route 2

Participants were then asked to discuss and develop an initial list of criteria, which could be used in the multi criteria analysis to evaluate the two route options. The criteria lists were then collated and later presented to the Expert Panel.

Between 1st and 2nd Forums – Expert Panel Deliberations
The specific tasks of the Expert Panel included:

  • scoring qualitative (non-numeric) criteria being used to compare the two route options (scores ranged from 0 to 10 with “0” having absolutely no impact through to “10” having a very high impact);
  • commenting on the quality of the work done in scoring the quantitative (numeric) criteria; and
  • ensuring that the processes in which panel members were involved were open and accountable.

Technical advice on each criterion was obtained and provided by the Department for Planning and Infrastructure, Main Roads, other lead agencies and individuals to enable the Expert Panel to score the options. This advice ranged from straight costing of options through to expert opinions and other value-based data sets.

The Expert panel either scored, or verified scores, for all criteria over the period 16th July to 22nd July. Some reduction in the number of criteria occurred where it was felt there was clearly duplication.

2nd Forum
The 2nd Forum was held on 27th July in Northam, and was attended by the same 100 participants who attended the first workshop. (There was no noticeable drop-off in participation). Participants were asked to provide individual weights against each of the criteria. Although the criteria had been previously examined and scored by the Expert Panel, the participants did not know these scores at this time.

Participants were asked to develop individual weights for importance against each criteria (where 0 = no importance at all to 100 = absolutely critical). These weights were then submitted to computers and analysed by the MCA software.

Participants were also asked to nominate which aspect of the ‘triple bottom line’ (economic, environmental, social or all of the above) they felt they most represented. To ensure that there was no bias as to the numbers of people representing each of the four interests, the weights for each interest group were averaged and then the averages were averaged. This process ensured that the final average weights were not dominated by larger interest groups.

The scores obtained from the Expert Panel were combined with the weights submitted by the participants and analysed by a program developed in the US called Logical Decisions2. (This program was considered to be the best for analysis of complex problems of this type.)

These results were immediately projected back into the room on a large screen, and the outcomes were discussed.

The final analysis clearly indicated that Route 2 was preferred over Route 1 by a significant degree.

Following 2nd Forum – Final Report
In the final report to Government, the Steering Group recommended that:
The government commences work to develop Route 2 as quickly as possible in line with the expressed preferences of the local communities, local governments, representative groups and industries.


By engaging in a comprehensive exploration of issues and views of stakeholders, the communities involved were able to develop a better understanding of the wide-ranging issues associated with the future transport of lime sand along Routes 1 and 2. The debate moved from emotional lobbying of particular positions, to a careful analysis of the component parts of the problem, greater understanding of the complexities, and seeking a resolution.

Although not all participants were pleased with the result, the process was perceived by nearly all participants to be thorough and fair. Notably, a few still expressed cynicism with the process and Government’s commitment to act on the results.

When the issue is highly contentious and emotional, and when there is more than one option that can be considered, the Multi Criteria Analysis Conference is an ideal way of encouraging thoughtful deliberation. By integrating the values and priorities of the community with the knowledge of technical experts who are required to balance social, economic and environmental criteria, the community and the technical experts are able to achieve synergy in resolving the issue.

1 Multi Criteria Analysis (MCA) helps to make strategic decisions when a number of criteria cannot be measured in terms of a single measure such as a monetary value.

2 Logical Decisions (LDW) is decision support software that helps to evaluate and select the best choice for difficult decisions. LDW is designed for one-of-a-kind decisions where you need to think about many concerns at once and make judgements about which concerns are most important.