Lt Creek Remediation

13th October 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [8.06 p.m.]: I speak about LT Creek, a waterway in the north-western part of my electorate that flows into Fennell Bay. Fennell Bay is close to Toronto, as is the suburb of the same name. It is a substantial local catchment occupying an area of about 740 hectares. The poor health of this waterway, due to extensive sedimentation, has long been a matter of concern for residents of the area and for the Lake Macquarie City Council. Today I would like to use this opportunity to put some of those concerns on the public record and request the State Government to engage with local stakeholders in the development of a solution to the longstanding problems in this catchment.

LT Creek appears as a brown and murky waterway, although long-time residents will tell you that this was not always the case. Those who have lived in the area for a long time, including some whose properties line the waterway, will tell you that as recently as the 1980s the water was clear, the creek bottom was sandy and marine life was abundant. It was a much more aesthetically pleasing waterway, conducive to recreational activity. Most importantly, it was a healthy part of the Lake Macquarie ecosystem.

Lake Macquarie City Council commissioned the LT Creek Catchment Water Quality Management Plan in response to concerns about the state of the waterway and in acknowledgement of the need for rehabilitation. The plan, adopted in 2009, covers the freshwater catchment of the creek and was intended to be complementary to a previous estuary improvement plan for Fennell Bay and Edmunds Bay. As the water quality management plan recognised, LT Creek suffers from high levels of suspended sediment that makes the water very turbid. Sediment is largely deposited in the upper reaches of the creek but with colloidal material travelling the extent of the stream into the further bays and the lake beyond. The combination of poor water clarity and core sediment deposition has stifled vegetation and aquatic life, degraded the channel bed and banks and significantly lowered the amenity of the waterway for recreational use.

There are a number of sources of this sedimentation but some of the key factors noted by the report's authors are the run-off from the nearby Centennial-owned Newstan Colliery and poorly controlled run-off from unsealed tracks surrounding the catchment. It should be noted that Newstan Colliery has in more recent times invested significantly in improvements, including water quality control dams, diversion structures and other measures, to reduce run-off from the site, but due to historically poor controls there are legacy issues from that source. Options that have been canvassed to improve the health of the waterway include targeted run-off controls, soil surface stabilisation and remediation of habitat. Dredging the waterway to remove existing sediment has also been considered, and that process was the subject of a subsequent report presented to the council in late 2013.

The dredging report found that high levels of silt within sediments were likely to be the primary reason for the decline in seagrasses and other aquatic vegetation and that in turn had affected the overall water quality and restricted the diversity of aquatic fauna to species tolerant of muddy waters, such as eels, mud crabs and mullet. While acknowledging that there were some limited risks to marine ecology in dredging, it found that, if undertaken in conjunction with management measures to control the entry of sediment into the creek, dredging would vastly improve water quality and provide an environment to promote the regeneration of plant and fish life in the creek.

There are some obstacles to dredging, cost being the most significant. As well as the cost of dredging itself, there are likely to be significant fees and charges involved in disposing of the dredged material as it would have to be treated for contaminants before being placed at a disposal site, most likely the waste management centres at Awaba or Summerhill. An option for disposal at Newstan Colliery was also considered and could be more cost-effective but this would involve negotiations with the Environment Protection Authority and the site owner. I favour that option.

My purpose in raising this issue today is to initiate a conversation with the State Government that will hopefully lead to a resolution of this problem. There is a management plan in place, but the council needs State Government support through the Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Primary Industries—Lands to put this into action. During my time on Lake Macquarie City Council I was proud to be part of the cooperative approach between council and the State and the ratepayers of Lake Macquarie to deliver what was recognised as a world-class remediation of Lake Macquarie. The cooperation used then needs to be brought to bear to fix LT Creek. I hope avenues of communication can be opened so that a proper plan to clean up LT Creek can be enacted in the near future.

In closing I also acknowledge the Newstan Colliery Community Consultative Committee for its longstanding interest in and advocacy on this issue. I am sure it would be willing to assist the relevant government authorities in any way it can to ensure that this matter is resolved. I know that because I met with it just over two weeks ago and spoke to Margaret MacDonald-Hill, chair, and John Paul Young, a longstanding advocate for the local area who is keen to see this matter resolved in an area that he loves.

Private members' statements concluded.

Pursuant to resolution matter of public importance proceeded with.

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