Report to come on acid sulfate soil removal from Cultural and Civic Space

Explosive debate occurred among Coffs Harbour City councillors over the removal of acid sulfate soils from the Cultural and Civic Space project at Council’s recent Extraordinary Meeting. Photo: Emma Darbin


A REPORT on the disposal of acid sulfate soils from the Cultural and Civic Space site in Gordon Street, Coffs Harbour, will be undertaken by Coffs Harbour City Council following community concern over the soil being disposed of at Sawtell and councillor concern over the increased cost of hauling it to Queensland.

Cr Sally Townley called on Council to conduct a detailed and comprehensive report on the matter at an Extraordinary Meeting of Council on Thursday 20 May.

Around 13,000 to 14,000 cubic metres of soil is to be removed from the site.

Council had originally planned to treat the acid sulfate soil at the Sawtell Treatment Plant, but now intends to transport it to Queensland for treatment at a higher cost.

“On February 25th when we were in the Chamber on the eve of signing the lump sum contract for the Cultural and Civic Space we were told that the material was going to go to Sawtell,” Cr Townley stated at the meeting.

“So I was very surprised when just a few weeks later it came out that wasn’t the plan; that site wasn’t available.

“At what point did we know that?”

Cr Keith Rhoades stood up for the community of Sawtell at the meeting who he said did not want the soil disposed of at Sawtell.

“I want an assurance from Council that based on the community reaction when they found out that it was to be dumped at Sawtell, that it’s not the case,” Cr Rhoades stated.

Council staff stated the Council had now signed a contract to dump the soil in Queensland, and it was still Council’s intent to “follow that through”.

Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight, however, said Council had not received any submissions from Sawtell residents objecting to the disposal of the soil at Sawtell.

Cr Rhoades asked if Council had called for submissions from the public regarding the dumping of soil at Sawtell, to which the reply was “no”.

“Well then it doesn’t surprise me that we didn’t get any (submissions), if we didn’t ask for them,” Cr Rhoades stated.

Cr Rhoades also questioned the current practice of removal of acid sulfate soil from the Cultural and Civic Space site.

“There is dirt from the exit of the site right down to the corner of the medical centre; that is being picked up by car tyres and transmitted elsewhere,” Cr Rhoades stated.

“Here we are, and we know the effects of acid sulfate soils, and it’s being transported from the site and immediately it hits Gordon Street.

“It’s not only the transportation by cars, people are walking over it at the pedestrian crossing as well.”

A Council Director stated that he would ask the Project Lead to make sure that the “right practices were being followed” in regards to the soil’s disposal.

Cr Paul Amos questioned Council over what other options were explored before Council started sending the soil to Queensland for treatment at a cost of $1.5 million dollars.

“The Airport was an early site that was explored and also the Sawtell Treatment Plant site; they were the two major sites,” a Council Director stated.

Cr Rhoades expressed concern over the two major sites that were considered to dump the soil at.
“Aren’t we aware that there are waterways adjacent to both of those sites?” Cr Rhoades asked.

“Beautiful Boambee Creek adjacent to the Airport site; you’ve got waterways and creekways and tributaries with the old Sawtell site as well.

“I still believe there is an attempt here to dump the majority of this 28,000 tonnes on the community of Sawtell who have clearly expressed their desire that they don’t want it; none of our community or villages want it.”

Cr Tegan Swan called on the Council report to detail the discovery of acid sulfate soil on the site, how Council notified the community about this and made a decision on what to do with the soil, how Council became aware of the need to change this decision about the soil’s disposal, what other options Council considered and how it determined that removal of the soil to Queensland was the best option.

“For clarity, transparency and everything else,” Cr Swan said.

Cr John Arkan, however, took the opportunity to use the motion to change Council’s current position of support for the Cultural and Civic Space project.

“We’re going to get all this information and not change our position?” Cr Arkan asked.

“What are we getting all this information for if we’re not going to take some type of action?”

Cr Arkan attempted to alter the wording of Cr Townley’s motion to enable Council to “reconsider the adopted position” of Council on the Cultural and Civic Space project after receiving the upcoming Council report.

“It makes sense now councillors, let’s get the information, let’s spend the time and ask what went wrong, and why it happened, and if that has an impact on the project we will reconsider it,” Cr Arkan said.

“Who knows what that might bring.”

Cr Townley called a point of order to Cr Arkan’s motion changes at the meeting.

“The decision to spend the money has already been made, now we’re seeing an amendment which is extensively proposing to effectively chuck out an $80 million dollar project which is all approved, which they’re digging right now in case you hadn’t noticed,” Cr Townley exclaimed.

“Are you seriously saying that we use this as a vehicle to amend this motion to reconsider the status of this project, you’ve got to be kidding!”

Mayor Denise Knight ruled that Cr Arkan’s amendment was a direct negative of the motion and took the amendment off the table, despite Cr Arkan arguing the legitimacy of her ruling.

“It is my ruling that it is a negative and I have taken it off,” Cr Knight stated.

Mayor Knight then directed Cr Arkan to sit down and said “I have taken it (the amendment) off, thank you”.

Cr Townley summarised the contentious debate by saying she just wanted to receive a public explanation on the issue.

“I am a little bit stunned that what I thought was a fairly straightforward motion has gone off on so many tangents,” Cr Townley said.

“The point is just why have we gone for two years thinking this and then after the contract’s signed that hasn’t happened.

“I’m a bit surprised that someone can even consider not voting for a public explanation.”

Councillors were split 4-4 when voting on the issue with Crs Tegan Swan, Sally Townley, Denise Knight and Paul Amos voting for a Council report to come back on the acid sulfate soil removal from the Cultural and Civic Space site, and Crs Keith Rhoades, George Cecato, Michael Adendorff and John Arkan voting against.

Mayor Denise Knight used her casting vote to approve the vote, ending more than one hour of contentious debate on the issue.

Council will now receive a detailed and comprehensive report documenting the changes regarding disposal of acid sulfate soils from the Cultural and Civic Space project which will provide timelines as to how and why the plans changed and interactions with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on the matter.

Council will also receive details of the Project Board delegated limits with regards to additional project expenditure, and note that the provision of the report does not alter the adopted position of Council regarding the Cultural and Civic Space project.



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