December 2015: John Hagger, convenor of Facebook community discussion group, The Clarence Forum, writes to Clarence Valley Council (CVC), advising that a former CVC employee had told him that fill and rubbish, including asbestos cement pipes, had been dumped at the former sewerage treatment plant (STP); Mr Hagger asked CVC for a meeting “to outline and describe the nature of Council’s dumping and assist Council with the actual locations” of the material.
CVC’s works and civil director Troy Anderson responds and notes that the former employee “was heavily involved in the contaminated land surveys…
“… I am expecting that [his] advice … will be in line with … existing information and data…”
January 2016: ABC North Coast and the Independent report on alleged asbestos at the site. Safework NSW inspects the site and advised it is “working with CVC to develop safe systems of work for the remediation”.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised that “CVC is the appropriate regulatory authority and is responsible for any asbestos issues on the site”.
CVC’s general manager, Scott Greensill, advised that “all necessary actions in regards to possible asbestos … are being managed in the appropriate and responsible manner.
“…The ongoing raising of this issue is considered to be nothing more that irresponsible scaremongering.”
CVC declined to answer the Independent’s list of questions.
February 2016: CVC issues a media release titled, Warning of misleading claims from petitioners, which alleged that someone had been petitioning nearby residents. Scott Greensill said that “some of the reports [about the petitioner] we have had are disturbing.
“One resident told us the petitioner … made a number of false claims…
“She said he told her the council was going to dump asbestos waste near the [adjacent] South Grafton High School … that is a completely irresponsible claim.”
At the February council meeting, Cr Karen Toms asked the general manager if the remediation budget was adequate, given the alleged asbestos.
Responding, Mr Greensill said that “there is no identified asbestos on the site”.
“Now, if it turns up … we’ve said on multiple occasions that we will manage it…”
March 2016: CVC issues a media release stating that the site “poses no asbestos risk”, following further testing of the site, and that a new report “backs up findings of a report prepared in 2013”. The release states that “an asbestos pipe was identified at the southwest portion of the site” and that “if a significant amount of suspected bonded asbestos is encountered all works must cease and the appropriate additional controls implemented.”
March 2016: Greens MP David Shoebridge lodged questions in the NSW Parliament, regarding the alleged “illegal dumping of asbestos”, asking: “What actions is the Minister taking to ensure that Clarence Valley Council is taking appropriate steps to inform the community, honestly and transparently.”
His questions were answered in June and the Minister assured him that everything was in order and that CVC was working with Safework NSW and the EPA.
June 2016: The general manager writes to John Hagger, telling him that he “did not intend to waste any more of [CVC’s] time and resources addressing allegations, which I believe have already been addressed”.
July 2016: At the July council meeting, Cr Toms asks if she can have a copy of a map that marks the location of alleged contaminated fill, as indicated by the former employee.
She said the council had not been “open and transparent” about the issue. Previously, Mr Greensill had invited Cr Toms to submit a formal GIPA (Government Information (Public Access)) and pay the associated fees “as a member of the public”.
The following comment was published, with her permission, on The Clarence Forum: “The reason he has given me is the issue of alleged asbestos has been dealt with and is not a matter that is before Council.”
September 2016: The Clarence Environment Centre’s John Edwards was given a map of where the alleged asbestos was buried, following an appeal against CVC’s initial rejection of his formal GIPA, on the grounds that “the information that you seek access to was provided to Council in confidence”.
The former employee tells the Independent that the map CVC released was not the same one he had given the council; however, he said his main concern was material dumped in the former STP’s sludge lagoon, as marked on the map given to Mr Edwards.
November 2016: Documents showing that 900 kilograms of asbestos pipes had been discovered during the sieving of 4,000 cubic metres of fill, along with “large pieces of concrete, tires and car parts, chain wire fencing and road markers”, are tabled at the November council meeting.