EDITORIAL: Householders caught in the crossfire over a problematic road base.

FOR more than a decade, a road-base made in Newcastle – Steelstone Mix 3 – was used in various road building and road repair projects in the Hunter and Central Coast regions.

The Steelstone road base was made by a company operating from the former BHP steelworks at Mayfield. One of its virtues was that it recycled waste materials, including steelmaking slag and power station coal ash. In a 2007 newsletter, the Australasian Slag Association said Mix 3 was “developed in conjunction with the Hunter branch of the RTA”, as the government’s Roads and Maritime Services agency was known at the time. The newsletter noted that 20,000 tonnes of Mix 3 – a “flexible” pavement with “self-cementing properties – had gone into a $30-million upgrade of Lake Macquarie’s Five Islands Bridge.

But problems began to appear, and in April 2013 the NSW government issued a directive to local councils saying that Mix 3 should no longer be used. In January 2014, the Newcastle Herald reported that Lake Macquarie City Council was dealing with at least 100 road defects, and some other Hunter councils confirmed that they, too, had experienced problems with the product.

In simple terms, the Steelstone road base has apparently expanded in at least some of the situations it has been used, causing roads and adjacent footpaths or driveways to buckle, distort or crack.

Its manufacturer, South Coast Equipment or SCE, appears not to have ever commented publicly on the controversy, and is said by Lake Macquarie council to be denying any fault with its product.

In the long run, liability for the various problems will presumably be worked out between the parties and their lawyers, which might be all right as far as councils, governments and companies are concerned. But it is far from all right when the impact is on individual property owners – as highlighted by the case of Phil O’Neill, of Dobell Drive, Wangi Wangi. After four years of correspondence with Lake council, Mr O’Neill, an 81-year-old widower, fears he will never see the end of this problem.

Although the council might not want to set a worrying precedent for itself, it should pay Mr O’Neill’s modest repair bill – estimated at $30,000 – and work out the ultimate responsibility later. The council should accept that justice delayed is justice denied, and speed things through for Mr O’Neill and any other individuals in similar situations.

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