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Second site receives EPA approval to receive West Gate Tunnel soil

EPA Victoria has approved an Environment Management Plan (EMP) for Maddingley Brown Coal landfill, as part of Western Soil Treatment’s application to receive tunnel boring machine spoil from the West Gate Tunnel Project.

Initial testing on the West Gate Tunnel project showed per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS, could be expected when tunneling begins.

Moorabool Shire Council has criticised the approval, labelling the EPA’s decision “extremely disappointing.”

“Council has been concerned all along with the total lack of community consultation and today’s decision by the EPA fails to alleviate our concerns,” Moorabool Shire Mayor Tom Sullivan said.

“Bacchus Marsh residents are angry about plans to store this spoil so close to schools and market gardens, and it is extremely disappointing that the neither the Minister for Planning nor the EPA have properly consulted them about this.”

According to an EPA spokesperson, EMP approval does not mark the final decision on where spoil will be sent, with the final decision to be made by Transurban through a tender process.

“EPA assessed the plan for potential environmental impacts, such as runoff, odour, and potential land, surface water and groundwater risks, and has determined that there are appropriate measures detailed in the plan to keep the environment and community safe,” the spokesperson said.

The Bacchus Marsh site is the second to receive EPA approval, after Hi-Quality Group’s Bulla landfill received the green light last month.

Under government regulations, the owner of a site bidding to receive the spoil must develop an EMP and comply with specific conditions including constructing an appropriate containment system and managing spoil appropriately, so risks are controlled.

“The health of the local community and environment is EPA’s highest priority. EPA will ensure a rigorous approach to compliance and all safety measures are followed,” the spokesperson said.

“EPA will continue to monitor the treatment and containment of this type of spoil to ensure that it meets critical public health and environmental standards to keep Victorians safe.”

The West Gate Tunnel project is expected to generate three million tonnes of waste soils from tunnel alignment over an 18-month period.

According to the EPA, landfills in Victoria cannot absorb an additional three million tonnes of waste soils within an 18-month period without exhausting existing capacity in the market.

The EPA states that generic landfill designs will not be used for sites approved to take TBM soil.

“The designs are engineered, modelled and auditor approved based on everything that is known about PFAS, making them unique in Australia,” the EPA said.

A third site, Cleanaway Ravenhall, has received planning approvals, but is yet to have its plan ticked off by the EPA.

All three sites received EMP approval last year, the decisions were revoked in December however, with the EPA admitting it had overstepped its powers in giving its environmental sign-off.

“The EMPs approved last year were assessed by EPA and made with some requirements for further technical information to be provided before the sites could receive spoil from the West Gate Tunnel Project,” the EPA said.

“The newly approved EMPs now contain all required information in one complete document.”

The revocation further delayed construction on the project, which is already running a year behind and facing $3 billion in cost overruns.

As reported yesterday in The Age, the West Gate Tunnel Project is facing the prospect of further delays due to a string of separate court cases.

The City of Melton launched legal action in the Supreme Court in February against the state government’s move to amend the Melton Planning Scheme to allow West Gate Tunnel soil to be sent to Cleanaway Ravenhall.

In a December 2020 statement, City of Melton Mayor Kathy Majdlik called for an “urgent review” of the state government approval.

“We were shocked when the EPA and the state government recently approved Cleanaway’s plans for the Ravenhall landfill,” she said.

“Dumping toxic soil in an area where families live and work doesn’t make sense. The west is not a dumping ground for toxic waste our residents deserve better.”

While Majdlik welcomed the EPA’s decision to overturn its approval, she said council has serious doubts over the entire review and approval process.

“The Minister for Planning must urgently review the state government’s own approval for toxic soil to be dumped in Ravenhall based on this development,” she said.

“We cannot simply accept this approval from the state government after the EPA got its assessment so wrong.”

Moorabool Environment Group has launched its own legal proceedings in the Supreme Court against Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s approval for Bacchus Marsh.

In a statement acknowledging yesterday’s EMP approval, Moorabool Environment Group said the Bacchus Marsh community had not been consulted.

“We are currently engaged in further proceedings concerning a related decision by the Minister for Planning which also bypassed the community,” the statement reads.

“Moorabool Environment Group will again consider all legal and other avenues available to us and the community to continue to wage this fight.”

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