Coffs’ Councillors reject report on CCS acid sulphate soil disposal to Queensland

A Council report on the interstate disposal of acid sulphate soil from the Cultural and Civic Space project site has been dismissed by some Coffs Harbour councillors. Photo: Emma Darbin.

 

COFFS Harbour City councillors have chosen not to note a report by Council staff which reviewed the interstate disposal of acid sulphate soils from the Cultural and Civic Space construction site to Queensland.

The report responded to an earlier Council resolution at a Council meeting on 20 May for Council to receive a report which outlines the Cultural and Civic Space (CCS) Project Board’s delegated expenditure limits for additional project expenditure, and the decision-making processes which led to the selection of the method of disposal for soils excavated from the Cultural and Civic Space project at Gordon Street, Coffs Harbour to Queensland.

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The Cultural and Civic Space project entails the excavation of approximately 23,000 tonnes of material, which is required by State Significant Development Application consent conditions to be dealt with as acid sulphate soil.

According to the Council report, in June 2019 Coffs Harbour’s Airport Enterprise Park development site was identified as the “preferred receiving site for the excavated CCS soil”.

In October 2020, the decommissioned Sawtell Sewerage Treatment Plant site emerged as an alternate fill site for the CCS excavated soil if the Airport Enterprise Park site was found to be untenable.

In January 2021, the Airport Enterprise Park site was ruled out as an option and the Sawtell Sewerage Treatment Plant site was confirmed as the only available alternative site.

In February 2021, the Sawtell Sewerage Treatment Plant site was pursued as the solution, with on-site treatment of the acid sulphate soil to occur at Gordon Street prior to its transport to Sawtell.

In March 2021, community concerns emerged through social media and in Council Chambers regarding taking the soil waste to Sawtell, and an investigation of disposal options outside of Coffs Harbour was undertaken.

In May 2021, the carting and disposal of the untreated acid sulphate soil by strategic underwater burial in Queensland within 24 hours of excavation emerged as the most appropriate disposal option, at additional cost.

“The diversion of the material to underwater disposal acknowledged the community concerns regarding the use of the Sawtell STP site,” the Council report stated.

“The decision to transport the material to underwater disposal effectively mitigated the financial risks which would otherwise have arisen as a consequence of delays under the contract.”

Cr Sally Townley was one of four councillors who chose not to note Council’s report on the issue at Council’s meeting on Thursday 12 August.

“I don’t want to note this because I’m just not really satisfied with the answer, I’m not satisfied that it took nearly four months for this (report) to come back and I find that there’s inconsistencies,” Cr Townley stated.

“We were told that everything was in hand; I was satisfied that everything was in hand.

“I’m still happy that we’ve signed the contract, I understand that this extra $1.3million dollars is in the variation but I don’t think it’s a satisfactory explanation.”

Cr Tegan Swan also chose not to note Council’s report and questioned why Council staff didn’t look into the issue sooner.

“If we go all the way back to our development consents it was repeatedly recommended that we consult with the EPA to decide an appropriate site for landfill,” Cr Swan said.

“So, given that was constantly told to us by a number of professionals, why did we not instigate that communication with the EPA at that time?

“We waited over a year until we decided to have a look at it.”

Cr Paul Amos also chose not to note the Council report.

“It’s an issue about councillors getting good information to make their decisions upon,” Cr Amos stressed.

“I’m concerned that this document is not as complete as it could be.

“The reason why we moved so quickly to go from Sawtell to Queensland is that the community of Sawtell were outraged, and Toormina, now I’ve seen no indication of that.”

Cr Amos said the report showed that the Airport and the Sawtell sites “were never in the mix”.

“They were never going to work,” he stated.

“All this while we’re making big decisions and that $1.5 million potentially if added into the contract earlier might have changed some councillor’s minds in which direction we headed with the project.”

Cr Keith Rhoades questioned “what was the rush for” to send the acid sulphate soil to Queensland.

“Can the councillors be informed as to what was the rush for?” Cr Rhoades asked.

“What was the rush to have it done in such a very, very short period?”

A Council director stated that “unless there was a disposal option for the acid sulphate soils, the project wasn’t going to proceed and there are delay penalties for Council as the principle if we cause delays to the smooth flow of the project for the contractor”.

“That was the primary reason for the expediting of the option,” the Council director stated.

Council’s General Manager Steve McGrath said he fully supported the Project Board’s decision on 30 April 2021 to approve a Variation Request from CCS Head Contractor Lipman Pty Ltd to cart and dispose of the acid sulphate soil via strategic underwater burial.

“Having reviewed the material that led to the situation we’re in, I fully support what the Project Board did under the circumstances,” Mr McGrath stated.

“On top of Council resolving to accept the lump sum offer from Lipman and to progress with the construct phase of the project, Council also at that time looked at the total project end cost and adopted a contingency specifically to accommodate unforeseen elements that may arise both through the excavation of soil or when issues may come up during construction.”

The Council report stated that the Project Board may approve a variation, including additional project expenditure, unless it exceeds the overall project budget limit of $81.265m.

Any project variation over this budget limit must be reverted to Council and receive an effective resolution from Council voting for the additional required funds.

“The Board was operating within its authority and consistent with its role when it approved a Variation Request for the purposes of removing acid sulphate soil to underwater disposal in Queensland,” the Council report stated.

“The Board approved a Variation to an existing contract which had already been appropriately resolved by Council.

“In approving the Variation for underwater disposal of acid sulphate soil the Board did not cause or allow the Council-resolved Project budget of $81.265m to be exceeded.

“The approved $81.265m budget included a contingency amount specifically for issues which might arise during the excavation phase of the Project.”

Councillors resolved 4 votes to 3 not to note the Council report on the issue, with councillors Paul Amos, Keith Rhoades, Tegan Swan and Sally Townley voting not to note the Council report and councillors Denise Knight, Michael Adendorff and George Cecato voting to note the Council report.

 

By Emma DARBIN

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