The massive increase in freight costs due to the floods could have “catastrophic effects” on East Kimberley businesses who will have to lay off staff and increase their prices, an industry survey has revealed. The East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry surveyed 50 agriculturalists, pastoralists, retailers, tourism and construction businesses to find out how they were coping with the record increase in the cost of freight since the Great Northern Highway was cut due to the one-in-100 year flood earlier this month. The survey revealed 82 per cent of respondents said their freight costs had increased by 75 per cent since the Fitzroy River Bridge was destroyed by ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie in the first week of January, cutting off the East Kimberley from the West by sealed road. The flood turned the Central Kimberley town of Fitzroy Crossing into an island, flooded indigenous communities and killed thousands of cattle. It is expected to take two years to rebuild the Fitzroy River Bridge and reconnect the Great Northern Highway. In the meantime, freight to the East Kimberley has to go on a huge detour from Perth through South Australia, Northern Territory and into Kununurra. The new route adds an extra 2000km to a one-way trip. EKCCI CEO Clare Smith said nearly half of survey respondents said they could not sustain those costs for anytime at all, while a further 33 per cent said they could cope with it for one to two months. “That’s 80 per cent of businesses right there in two months time that absolutely can’t sustain those costs,” she said. “To be able to sustain it they will have to pass it on to the consumer, lay off staff and scale back production.” EKCCI conducted the survey to demonstrate to the State Government that there needs to be a freight subsidy for East Kimberley businesses until the Great Northern Highway is reconnected. “It is clear from the results that the impact of the floods will have a severe and on-going impact on freight costs for businesses in the East Kimberley region with potentially catastrophic effects at not only a local and regional level but also a State level,” the report reads. “It is requested that the WA Government introduce a freight subsidy as a matter of urgency to support business on-going operations in the East Kimberley. The freight subsidy should be backdated from when the Fitzroy Crossing bridge became impassable.” The survey was handed to the Regional Development Minister Don Punch who met with EKCCI and large business owners and producers in Kununurra on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in freight costs. It also revealed 57 percent of respondents will need to pass on extra costs to customers., while 14% of businesses said they will try to absorb the cost but it will have an impact on their gross product. Other said they would reduce stockholdings, lay off staff and scale back operations. The survey also showed that 74 percent of businesses were looking for suppliers and buyers in other states. That included Halls Creek Home and Electrical owner Brett Perkins. He has signed up with three Darwin-based furniture suppliers after freight costs from Perth almost tripled. He is also looking at suppliers in Brisbane for other goods. He said a sea container from Perth used to cost him $5,500 to $6000 now he was being quoted $17,000. Meanwhile a pallet of smaller products which used to cots $350 was now costing $1000. “I can’t pay that, all my products would triple (in price). That’s why I have to get smarter about finding new wholesalers,” he said. A government spokesman said they had been engaging with industry groups, including EKCCI to ascertain the impacts of freight costs on local businesses. However the spokesman did not indicate if there would be a freight subsidy saying instead the Department of Fire and Emergency Services had activated the Resupply Subsidy Scheme which is for freight deemed essential goods only. “Reconnecting the Great Northern Highway and getting freight moving between East and West Kimberley will be one of the best ways we can support local business and industry, and we’re doing everything we can to make that happen as fast as possible,” he said. Main Roads is currently organising barges and a portable pontoon to ferry cars and single trailer trucks across the Fitzroy River while a temporary low level crossing is built.