Multimillion dollar Stawell clean-up engaged by EPA Victoria

A stockpile of scrap tyres

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has removed a stockpile of approximately one million tyres from a Stawell site that would have posed a major hazard for nearby communities if it had caught fire.

EPA CEO Nial Finegan said EPA had removed about 9500 tonnes of tyres and shred after repeated failure by the site’s owners to comply with orders to reduce the risk of fire at the site.

“On 2 August 2017, it was decided that little to no effort had been made by the stockpile’s owner to comply with a Country Fire Authority (CFA) Fire Prevention Notice or any of three EPA notices issued on the site that required the owner to reduce the risk of fire at the site and to segregate tyres into smaller piles; therefore, unacceptable environmental and community risks remained on the eve of the forthcoming fire season,” Mr Finegan said.

“In short, EPA was of the view that the stockpile appeared to have been abandoned or was being handled in a manner by the owners that was likely to cause an environmental hazard.”

Over 380 trucks filled with tyre and shred were taken from the site, with the majority going to Melbourne to be processed at an EPA-licensed site. The site has been inspected twice-weekly during the process to ensure appropriate management. EPA Victoria estimates about 35 per cent were unable to be processed due to contamination from mud and dirt and went to landfill.

Mr Finegan said if the stockpile had caught fire it would have had many environmental, economic and social risks for Stawell and its surrounds.

“The environmental impacts would have included air quality, firewater runoff into local waterways and land contamination. By removing this stockpile, EPA has removed these risks to both the local community and our environment,” Mr Finegan said.

“In the event of a fire there would likely have been a need to evacuate about 7000 people from Stawell. A fire also would have impacted on the brand of Grampians tourism in areas such as the Great Western and the Pyrenees and Grampians wine regions.

“There would also have been agricultural impacts, waterway impacts from fire water and contamination, and a likely closure of major highway and railway connections, not to mention the cost of a likely several-month firefight.

Mr Finegan said EPA’s action to remove the stockpile was seen as a last resort and it will seek to recover costs from current and/or previous owners and occupiers of the site.

“For 10 years, various owners of the stockpile were given every opportunity to comply with legal and regulatory obligations but failed to take material steps to properly manage the site’s risks to the community,” Mr Finegan said.

“The removal of this fire hazard has cost about $5 million, but EPA will use its legal powers to seek to recover these costs from the owners of the site through the courts.”

The coordinated effort saw ignificant input from Northern Grampians Shire Council, CFA, Victoria Police, Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water, Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) and Department of Health and Human Services.

EPA also engaged private sector partners and local subcontractors to remove the stockpile.