Pressure mounts on EPA over Boolaroo lead

21st March 2018

Source: Newcastle Herald | By: Helen Gregory | Posted: March 21, 2018

PRESSURE is mounting on the NSW Environment Protection Authority to develop a repository in Lake Macquarie to accept lead contaminated soil, as residents shun the current option of loading large piles of dirt into 800-kilogram bulka bags for disposal at Newcastle City Council’s Summerhill Waste Management Centre.

Just two Boolaroo residents have disposed contaminated soil at Summerhill since the process using bulka bags was introduced in November, a Newcastle council spokesman said, although one load weighed more than 111 tonnes. 

The EPA said only one person had registered their details and received a consignment number.

Member for Lake Macquarie Greg Piper said using bulka bags was “unreasonable”. 

“It’s an unwieldy and totally impractical way to manage contaminated soil if you’ve got any reasonable amount at all,” Mr Piper said.

“If you’ve got a bobcat and excavator and you’re digging up a pool or levelling a yard or producing 10 cubic metres, you’re not going to put it in bulka bags – and it’s unnecessary, by the way.

“This material while technically toxic is not a hard material to manage, so the constraint is unreasonable and certainly has a huge impact on people producing anything more than a few wheelbarrows of material.”

Mr Piper was chair of the now disbanded Lake Macquarie Lead Community Reference Group (LCRG) that moved a four-part motion on December 18, 2017, which included to request the council remove the bulka bag requirement. 

The motion also included a push that if a “resolution to the restrictions” was not found within three months, to request the EPA and Lake Macquarie City Council seek to develop a repository within its council area.

Mr Piper wrote to the EPA this month saying while the agreement with Newcastle allowed for a “speedier solution”, “it is clear in hindsight that a solution within the LGA of origin would have given greater surety for a long-term solution”. 

“I would appreciate being updated as to the intention of the EPA in addressing the bulka bag limitation or seeking to find an alternate site in conjunction with Lake Macquarie City Council,” he wrote.

He’s also held informal discussions with council staff. 

“I have raised it…  that I think they should be looking for a site,” he said.  

“I know they don’t have anything established but they’re five times the physical size of Newcastle and if you cast your eye over Lake Macquarie there’s plenty of locales that could accommodate this – it’s not that hard but you do have to start the process and then put the applications in, you’ve got to do your work.”

A Lake Macquarie council spokeswoman said the arrangement between EPA and Newcastle council was the result of an agreement following the Lead Expert Working Group’s 2016 report and recommendations.

“Council is currently expanding its only landfill at Awaba to provide space for the city’s future waste and improve on-site facilities,” the spokeswoman said.

“It does not currently have the capacity or requirements to accept lead soil waste.  

“Awaba Waste Management Facility operates as one containment cell, and lead soil waste needs to be managed in its own cell.”

A spokeswoman for the EPA admitted it “has explored a number of arrangements with other waste facilities in the region” but said it continued to work with Newcastle to “ensure that disposal solutions are available for residents with both small and large loads”. 

A Newcastle council spokesman told the Herald the council had “indicated to the EPA it is willing to further discuss the matter, but only where financially beneficial to ratepayers”.

Boolaroo Action Group spokesperson Jim Sullivan said the Summerhill solution had “completely failed” and three months after the LCRG’s motion, it was high time to find a solution closer to home. 

“The people of Boolaroo are about to start taking this material back and dumping it on Pasminco land,” he said. 

“They’re so frustrated they’ll break the law and they’ll be dumping it on the footpath in the not too distant future.  A number of people suggest we should take it back and give it back to them [Pasminco] because it’s theirs, not ours.”

The Herald revealed in November last year the stoush between the EPA and Newcastle council over acceptance of the soil. 

A spokesman for Newcastle council said at the time it had been asked by the EPA to find a waste disposal solution for “backyard gardeners”, not people forced to remediate land to gain approval for development consent.

“The EPA asked us to handle domestic-sized waste only – not the large volumes they suggested for the first time last week,” the spokesman said at the time. 

“The centre can accept as many bags as is necessary, but not loosely transported industrial-sized loads.”

Meanwhile, the EPA said it had an “in principle” agreement with Newcastle council to receive around 100 tonnes of lead soil each year. 

An EPA spokeswoman said the council imposed “subsequent procedures… [that] have constrained the proposal to waste received in bulka bags only”. 

The spokeswoman said “despite representations”, the council indicated accepting truckloads would require “significant planning and preparation”. 

“The EPA encourages council to undertake that preparation and planning as soon as possible to achieve a regional environmental and community outcome," she said at the time. 

The Herald reported last year Boolaroo resident Mark Hambier had wasted months trying to find a place to dump up to 50 tonnes of lead soil, but eventually gave up and decided to bury it on his property.

“The extra cost to load it into the bags was ridiculous,” he said at the time.  

"Most people said unless I had a frame for the bags they couldn’t do it anyway. It seems to me that the solution they've found for residents is that they’ll let us dump the soil, but they've made it too difficult so we can't.”

Mr Piper said Mr Hambier’s experience represented a “lost opportunity”. 

“What we want to do is if people are redeveloping and they’ve got contaminated soil let’s get rid of it, put it somewhere out of the way so that site never has to deal with it again.”

The state government has allocated $800,000 to Lake Macquarie council from its $23.5 million budget for handling contaminated land, but Mr Piper has asked for this to be increased to $2 million.

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