Shire of Esperance council vote to abandon Merivale landfill site

Councillors debated the importance of protecting ground and surface water in the lands surrounding the proposed Kirwan Road landfill site. Photo: Esperance Express.
Councillors debated the importance of protecting ground and surface water in the lands surrounding the proposed Kirwan Road landfill site. Photo: Esperance Express.

The Shire of Esperance council has voted to scrap its proposed landfill site on Kirwan Road, ending a three-year campaign by the Esperance Merivale Tip Action Group to abandon the site.

Council were set to vote on a motion to progress with the required works prescribed by the Endorsed Environmental Scoping Document when deputy shire president Basil Parker successfully moved an alternate motion calling for council to abandon the site entirely.

Cr Parker's motion called on shire chief executive officer Matthew Scott to investigate options for the disposal of the Kirwan Road site and explore the use of an alternate site on Logan Road in Grass Patch or in the Mallee area, stating that the environmental risk was "far too great".

Eight of the nine sitting councillors voted in favour of the motion during the council meeting on February 25, despite being advised by shire officers that it was an "extremely high risk option" as there was not sufficient time to source another landfill site before the licence at the Wylie Bay Facility expires in December, 2022.

Financial modeling also indicated that the shire could incur an additional average cost of $215,000 per year to transport waste to a location 60km further than the 17km distance to the proposed Kirwan Road site.

To date, the shire has spent more than $2.3 million between the purchase of the Merivale site and compiling geophysical reports as part of a 41-step process to satisfy the elements of the EPA's Public Environmental Review of the proposal.

Not one person has been able to give us an iron clad guarantee that nothing will go wrong, the best they can come up with is that risks can be mitigated, not eliminated, mitigated.

Cr Dale Piercey

After the meeting, Cr Parker confirmed the Logan Road property offered as an alternative site in his motion was owned by Rory Graham, brother of Cr Wes Graham. Cr Parker said Cr Graham had no financial ties to his brother's property.

"In my motion it was my instruction to investigate that site, if that site wasn't suitable for any reason we would look for another site north of Speddingup East Road," he said.

Cr Parker said he had discussed the property with Rory Graham on several occasions after it was suggested as a possible alternative site about five years ago, since the meeting no other sites had been offered as an alternate landfill site.

"We are talking over a five year time frame, that's long ago and then I brought it up recently with him and he said it was well and truly available and that's when I and Cr Mickel had a look at the site," he said.

Cr Parker said to his knowledge he, Cr Mickel and Cr Graham were the only councillors aware of the ownership of the suggested property before the alternate motion was moved and voted on by council. Cr Graham declared an impartiality interest at the beginning of the ordinary council meeting.

Speaking in favour of the alternate motion at the January 25 meeting, Cr Dale Piercey noted the importance of protecting ground and surface water in the vicinity of the Merivale site.

"Not one person has been able to give us an iron clad guarantee that nothing will go wrong, the best they can come up with is that risks can be mitigated, not eliminated, mitigated," she said.

"This site will never fit the project without us pouring mountains of money into it year after year and even then we run a huge risk of permanent damage."

The major concerns were always the environment and the potential of contamination to that environment because it was in an area that had some complications and some significant risks.

Cr Ian Mickel

Cr Steve McMullen was the only councillor to vote against the motion, noting that to date, council had not been shown any third party report which confirmed the site was unsuitable and called on the council to hold off on a decision until the EPA delivered its findings.

"This application will be assessed in full by the Environmental Protection Agency, the highest level of authority when it comes to protecting our environment, I want to hear what they have to say," he said.

"Why stop when we are 90 per cent of the way through getting the test results done and throw this money away, let's get the results back and make an informed, responsible decision."

Cr Jennifer Obourne spoke in favour of the motion and said she had completed significant community and environmental consultation outside of council briefings.

"After four months of briefings and expert opinions there is only one thing I know concretely and that is what we don't know about the geology and hydrology of this site," she said.

"Socially this is the jetty 2.0, I don't think the social fabric of our community can afford another bitter battle."

Shire president Ian Mickel said after considering all the information he could not support the Merivale site.

"The major concerns were always the environment and the potential of contamination to that environment because it was in an area that had some complications and some significant risks." he said

"I think the greater risk is that we may go through another two or three years without getting formal approval from the EPA or we may get an approval that will give us a very stringent monitoring system that is very expensive."

Mr Mickel said even though it would be a further distance to haul waste to a new site, the shire aimed to recoup most of the money spent on the proposed site.

"Since the property was bought three years ago, there has been significant increases in land values and there's also the potential to harvest the trees," he said.

"We know there is gravel we might want to use for road building operations in that region, so there is a whole range of things we need to look at to maximise the sale of that property."

Shire chief executive officer Matthew Scott said the shire administration had provided all of the information requested by the council and would now work to implement the resolution.

"From an administrative perspective we are starting from scratch," he said.

"To date I am not aware of any documented statement from an expert that suggests that the site is unsuitable, we've certainly gone out to find as much information as possible for council and that's very well documented."

Esperance Merivale Tip Action Group secretary Dale Johnson said the group was extremely relieved that its long battle was over.

"We were really impressed with the quality of the debate and we all congratulated the councillors on the diligent way they had gone about looking into this issue," she said.