Andrews government taken to court over West Gate Tunnel soil

The Andrews government is being sued by a group of residents and a council in Melbourne’s west over plans to dump soil contaminated with potentially carcinogenic PFAS chemicals from the West Gate Tunnel in landfills located close to homes.

The residents, from Moorabool Environment Group, had a major legal triumph in December when they forced the Environment Protection Authority to quash all of its environmental approvals for landfills accepting the project’s soil, after they pursued the regulator in court.

Maddingley Brown Coal landfill in Bacchus Marsh was one of the sites approved to take soil from the West Gate Tunnel.Credit:Luis Ascui

Documents lodged in the Supreme Court on Thursday show the Moorabool community group has requested a judicial review of Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s decision to amend the Moorabool Planning Scheme, which would allow potentially millions of tonnes of PFAS-contaminated soil to be dumped at the Maddingley Brown Coal landfill in Bacchus Marsh.

Melton Council launched separate legal proceedings against the Andrews government on Friday, over its move to amend the Melton Planning Scheme to allow the project’s soil to be sent to Cleanaway Ravenhall.

The Moorabool group alleges Mr Wynne was wrong to override Moorabool Council and bypass the consultation process to approve changes to the planning scheme.

This is because the environmental management plans put forward by multiple landfill sites and approved by the EPA – which were cited in the minister’s decision – are invalid, after the EPA withdrew its approval two months ago.

“The EPA’s approval is of no force and effect and there is no Environmental Management Plan approved under the Environment Protection (Management of Tunnel Boring Machine Spoil) Regulations 2020 (Vic),” court documents state.

“The minister could not lawfully determine whether the exemption was appropriate in the absence of an approved Environmental Management Plan.”

The documents allege Mr Wynne “improperly exercised his power” or “misdirected himself at law” by approving changes to the planning scheme.

The planning scheme amendment would allow Maddingley to be developed so it could receive, process and store the West Gate Tunnel project’s contaminated soil before disposing of it.

Maddingley is 800 metres from Bacchus Marsh Grammar; Parwan Creek runs through the landfill site. The soil is set to be dumped on paddocks that are owned by the landfill operator, but are not currently used as landfill.

What is PFAS?

PFAS is a group of potentially carcinogenic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, low infant birth weights and other illnesses.

While low levels of PFAS can be found in soil, sediment, water across most of Victoria, its prolonged use at the CFA Fiskville training college was considered so hazardous it shut down the college.

The chemicals are a concern because they are highly persistent in the environment and in the human body, meaning they don’t break down and can accumulate over time.

Victoria’s EPA states there is no consistent evidence that PFAS are harmful to human health, but has taken a precautionary approach to regulating the chemicals.

Moorabool Environment Group president Jodie Valpied said the minister’s decision to exempt himself from community engagement relied upon a “non-existent decision by the EPA”.

“In light of this, we have called upon the minister to withdraw his decision, however he has refused,” she said.

“This decision puts Victoria’s food bowl, the Victorian community, threatened species and major waterways at risk.

“We continue to emphasise that the Bacchus Marsh site is a completely unsuitable site for the contaminated spoil.

“Scientific research shows there is no safe way of storing PFAS-contaminated soil in these types of locations. Other options need to be pursued.”

Melton Council chief executive Kelvin Tori said of the case: “Council has issued proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria seeking to set aside the minister’s decision to accept Cleanaway’s proposal to amend the Melton Planning Scheme.“

The EPA’s former boss, Cathy Wilkinson, resigned on December 30, 20 days after the EPA admitted that it had overstepped its powers in giving its environmental sign-off to the landfills applying to receive the soil.

The opposition called for Ms Wilkinson’s sacking days after the EPA admitted to making the legal error.

It came after the EPA released new regulations created in the wake of the West Gate Tunnel’s soil crisis, drawing criticism it had cut corners to help resolve a protracted commercial dispute and made up policy on the run.

In a departure from usual practice, the new rules were created without community consultation and they also block third-party appeal rights at VCAT, where concerns about the landfill approvals would ordinarily be raised.

The Age approached the state government for comment.

PFAS is a group of potentially carcinogenic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, low infant birth weights and other illnesses.

While low levels of PFAS can be found in soil, sediment, water across most of Victoria, its prolonged use at the CFA Fiskville training college was considered so hazardous it shut down the college.

The chemicals are a concern because they are highly persistent in the environment and in the human body, meaning they don’t break down and can accumulate over time.

Victoria’s EPA states there is no consistent evidence that PFAS are harmful to human health, but has taken a precautionary approach to regulating the chemicals.

Start your day informed

Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

Source: Read Full Article