The proponent of a WA nickel refinery has pulled the pin on plans to base it near the seaside town of Esperance, blaming community protests for its decision to take the contentious project to Kwinana.

Alpha Fine Chemicals announced earlier this month it wanted to base the plant, which it claims will create between 50 and 60 full-time jobs and produce 20,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate for battery makers annually over the next 20 years, in Perth’s “lithium valley”.

The original proposal to base the site near farmland on Myrup Road met staunch opposition from nearby farmers, who submitted a petition with 819 signatures lobbying that the “highest level of environmental scrutiny” be placed on it.

In a statement, AFC claimed strong majority support for the proposal but said it did not want to divide the Esperance community.

“It was made very clear to AFC that even sites such as the Shark Lake Industrial Park would not be acceptable to those opposed to our proposed plant at Myrup,” the company said.

“AFC does not wish to be a divisive influence in the local community and we will never seek to impose an operation on a community in which we are not welcome.”

Livestock farmer Emma Iddison, who campaigned against AFC using the Myrup Road site, denied petitioners were opposed to the company basing the processing facility in Esperance.

“Our stance from the group of concerned people was never that we were against AFC, we were always supportive of what they were doing,” she said. 

“It was just that the site on Myrup Road they had chosen was the wrong site for that type of chemical plant.”

Ms Iddison said the site was 3km from the RAMSAR wetlands, raising concerns potential contamination could run into the groundwater around the agricultural zone, which includes an abattoir and one of Australia’s top-rated piggeries.

AFC Executive Chairman Norm Taylor said yesterday the company was never able to present the merits of the proposal.

“I think if they had an open mind to it, to receive both the geotechnical and engineering information, I think any open-minded person would have been convinced of the merits of it,” he said.

“If people don’t want to hear it then you’re never going to convince people, so if they actually just want to stop it irrespective of what any engineer or scientist says you’re never going to convince any person like that.

Mr Taylor said the plant could be more viable economically in Kwinana, with a feasibility study expected to wrap up in two months.