Cabbage Tree sand mine not a contamination risk: report

UNCONVINCED: Cain Gorfine from the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group is worried about the impact of a new sand mine proposed in the 'red zone'.  Picture: Jonathan Carroll
UNCONVINCED: Cain Gorfine from the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group is worried about the impact of a new sand mine proposed in the 'red zone'. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

EXPERTS investigating the Williamtown RAAF base contamination have given tentative backing to a sand mine proposed for the heart of the ‘red zone’.

The Department of Planning is currently considering an application for the $4.7 million sand mine off Cabbage Tree Road. 

Williamtown Sand Syndicate wants to extract more than half a million tonnes of sand each year from the site.

In a report prepared for the Williamtown Contamination Expert Panel and Chief Scientist Mary O’Kane, it was found the operations of the sand mine should not interfere with widespread contamination in the area from legacy firefighting chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid. 

It was concluded the sand mine presented a “low risk” in terms of the potential exposure of workers or aggravating the spread of the chemicals, because sand would be extracted at least one metre above the water table. 

The water requirements of the mine would be small, the report found, because sand would be washed off site. Water mains would be used for dust suppression and to supply amenities blocks. 

However it was recommended the company clarify whether the groundwater could be intercepted during construction works, which would require control measures to be put in place. 

There were also old bores on the property and “it should be made crystal clear the groundwater should not be used,” the report said. 

The Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group was formed to fight the sand mine proposal and spokesperson Cain Gorfine said they found the report unconvincing. 

He said there was a lack of understanding of the complex hydrology of the area and the report had not considered the impact of extracting large quantities of sand on the surrounding topography. 

“If the precautionary principle is applied to everybody else, every other business and operation within the red zone, why is this particular development exempt?” Mr Gorfine said. 

“The whole reason why fishermen and everybody else are in the position they are is because NSW Health and the Environmental Protection Authority have adopted the precautionary principle for these two chemicals.

“Why doesn’t this apply to state significant developments in the area?” 

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