In the wake of a third hydrogeological report on the proposed tip site at Kirwan Road, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson has urged the Esperance Shire to work with the community on the controversial project.
During a visit to the region, Mr Dawson said he was aware the proposed landfill was in close proximity to a number of environmentally sensitive areas but expressed confidence in the Environmental Protection Authority’s approvals process.
“The EPA have the relevant experience to properly assess any project and I am confident in the EPA processes,” he said.
“This is a very spectacular area and there are some very important sites, including the RAMSAR wetlands, very close to Merivale.
“I would encourage the shire to work with the community but, at the end of the day, they’ll make a decision and the EPA have a very open, transparent process.”
Shire of Esperance chief executive officer Matthew Scott said the shire were grateful for the minister’s feedback and would continue to follow the process and work with the EPA.
“We have been working with the community on this project, particularly with our New Landfill Reference Group, and will continue to work through the process sharing as much information as we can as it becomes available,” he said.
The comments came just 24 hours after the release of the Rockwater pump test results on September 5, which revealed a contaminant at the site would take 41 years to travel 1.6 kilometres to the landfill boundary in the event of a leak.
Principal hydrogeologist Phil Wharton said the results had indicated that the site was moderately permeable and estimated the groundwater flow velocity at the site to be 39 metres per year.
Despite the findings, Mr Wharton said the site was suitable for the construction of leachate recovery bores and, in the event of a leak, there would be sufficient time to intercept it.
With the calculation more than 530 years less than the initial prediction made by Talis Consultants, the Esperance Merivale Tip Action Group said the discrepancy in estimates called into question the shire’s decision to buy the site.
I would encourage the shire to work with the community but, at the end of the day, they’ll make a decision and the EPA have a very open, transparent process.Environment Minister Stephen Dawson.
Group chairman Mark Biven said each report had come up with wildly different conclusions as to the time it will take for any leachate to travel.
“The Talis information was the basis for the Due Diligence Report on which the Shire based its’ decision to buy the Kirwan Road site,” he said.
“The Rockwater pump tests measure how fast water can be extracted from the groundwater – it does not measure how fast water can disappear from the site when it encounters underground water channels.
“This is a major freshwater aquifer and should be protected into the future as it supplies local agricultural activities and household use.
“Any contamination of this would jeopardize the surrounding farmers’ and landholders’ water supply, as well as the wetlands.”
Mr Biven said the real measurement of underground water flow in the area was the dye test performed by the group on a neighbouring property in February, which showed the water travelling 1.8 kilometres in 24 hours.
Mr Biven said the group were disappointed that Rockwater did not inspect the surrounding area and view the water flows through the surrounding properties.
Mr Biven said the group looked forward to the full Public Environmental Review process being conducted by the EPA.
Labor MLC for the Agricultural Region Laurie Graham said he had been stunned by the results and believed the right decision would eventually be made.
“Eventually the right decision will be made in relation to that landfill,” he said.
“I was stunned by the estimation of 41 years. It’s very different from the 579 year figure and I haven’t changed my mind about the site – it’s inappropriate.”
The shire confirmed an extension of the landfill license at the current waste facility at Wylie Bay had been obtained until December 31, 2022.
Mr Scott said the shire applied for the extension at the facility, which was due to close in August 2019, to ensure the town would have a local landfill until a new one was approved and built.
It’s very different from the 579 year figure and I haven’t changed my mind about the site – it’s inappropriate.Labor MLC Laurie Graham.
“The Shire has received an extension of the footprint to Wylie Bay Landfill that allows landfilling until December of 2022,” he said.
“Environmental considerations are taken into account within the licensing process by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, who have have issued a license extension for the activity to continue in the short term.
“The extension merely means the shire does not have to transport waste to another landfill (outside the district) if we can get the new landfill approved and operational before 31 December 2022.
“Had the shire not demonstrated its commitment to the developing a new waste facility, it is unlikely the license extension application would have been considered and approved.”
Mr Scott said the extension had no impact on the current investigations.
Mr Dawson said the extension was a sensible decision by the shire likely to relieve the pressure of approvals for the new facility.
“I think it is sensible the shire have worked with the state government to get an extension for the existing tip given how controversial the project is,” he said.
It is understood the EPA approval process could take up to 18 months.
Mr Scott confirmed that the Shire Council had not yet made any further decisions on the project.